Destinations,  New Zealand

The River Tribe: Takaka, New Zealand

Hidden in the northern part of the South Island of New Zealand is a beautiful, quaint little town called Takaka. It is nestled in the southeastern end of Golden Bay, which is largely unpopulated and known for Abel Tasman National Park and the popular 5-day Abel Tasman Coast Track.

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Sunset on the Takaka River

When the festivals are in full-swing during the summer season, Takaka is a popular spot for backpackers to stop for the night due to its “free campground”. This campground can be seen from the center of town, and is more of a long, dirt path than an actual campground. Even so, during the summer the whole road is packed with elaborately decked-out vans, dozens of tents and more backpackers than you can even imagine.

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Many people call this campground home for a few nights and move on. Yet little-known to many of the backpackers, a whole community lies just beyond the dirt road. If you walk all the way to the end of the road, you’ll come across a small little track that winds along the side of a fence into the trees. Walking along this track brings you to the River Tribe.

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Music along the main walkway in the River Tribe

Nestled just between the trees and the Takaka River, many people call the River Tribe home during the warmer months. People build temporary treehouses, bamboo huts, cob ovens and lounge areas. Many others set up tents and create an elaborate structure around them, including tarps, beautiful linens, kitchens and places to sit and enjoy a good book.

river tribe

Many of these people are travelers, yet many others are locals who have called this place home for many years. Charles and I lived in a tent here for two months in the beginning of our relationship. We had a rug outside our “front door”, makeshift shelves for our kitchen that we covered in beautiful scarves, a couch repurposed out of an old van seat and an elaborate tarp set-up that protected the whole area from rain.

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The Takaka River flooded after a long rain

We would wake to our neighbors making coffee in our outdoor living room, people gathering supplies for an elaborate breakfast and ukulele music drifting from a nearby campsite. During the afternoons people would take the short walk to town for supplies or internet access, bask in the sun next to the river or search the water for greenstone. Life here was slow and simple, and often the biggest decision I needed to make was what flavor chocolate bar I’d buy that day.

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The River Tribe is not an official community, and there are no rules other than to respect the land. Anyone is welcome to come and go as they please, and everyone lives their life the way they prefer to. Yet more often than not, everyone came together as community. We cooked meals together, shared skills with each other and braved torrential downpours together.

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Charles having a quick snack in front of our camp

Those who dwell at the river camp are not “free campers”. Instead, they are people who are looking for an alternative way of living, apart from traditional society. There is no electricity, no running water (other than the river), and yet we make do with what we have. Living at the river is a beautiful way of reconnecting with nature and reminding ourselves that we really don’t need much to be happy.

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Greenstone found in the river

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