Opening minds and eyes

Last updated 12:43 20/02/2008
CARETAKER: Organiser Debby Verdonk is ready for the weekend's Festival of Opportunities at Founders Heritage Park.

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The Festival of Opportunities is one of New Zelaand's largest celebrations of health and lifestyle alternatives and it takes place at Founders Heritage Park this weekend. Peter Gibbs reports.

Debby Verdonk says people often have a preconception that the Festival of Opportunities is a hippie event.

You might be excused for thinking that when the programme lists Tarot for Total Awareness, or Healing with Hathors, but festival organiser Verdonk suggests there's another, more mainstream side to the event.

"People who haven't been before often have their minds already made up, but after they've been once they tend to come back," she says, pointing out that three churches will have a presence, as well as more conventional health and wellness practitioners.

While the festival offers the chance to learn more about a variety of skills and disciplines, there's also the chance to kick back and listen to the music, which runs almost continuously throughout the two days.

Verdonk says she regards herself as not just the organiser, but the "caretaker" of the event.

It started in 1992 as the Festival of Possibilities, organised by Avery Dash.

In 2001 it took on its present name after Dash stepped down and Maureen McKain took up the organisation.

Verdonk assumed ownership last year with Robyn Bird, but this year she's stepped out on her own.

She says the festival captures the essence of what Nelson is - health, healing for the soul, relaxation, joy, art and at the forefront of change.

"This is my passion and commitment - that every Nelsonian knows what is available to them so they can truly experience health, joy and vitality."

Free workshops and lectures start at 10.15am on both days, covering topics from A Holistic Approach to Health by Green MP Sue Kedgley to Chakra Dance by Maureen McKain.

Learn about your body in workshops on early detection of breast cancer, or about the soul in Feng Shui for the Soul.

Festival-goers can learn to play the didgeridoo or find out about the native trees and wild plants of New Zealand.

There could even be romance in the air, with a speed-dating event in the chapel at 4pm both days. A new Christchurch agency, Deeper Than Dating, is having a stall and workshop (Happily Ever After - Myth or Reality?), and a wedding singer will be in the chapel.

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"There's a huge array of speakers and workshops this year - 24 each day and both days different," says Verdonk.

A variety of food stalls will be available to keep the energy levels up.

The Festival of Opportunities runs from 10am to 6pm Saturday and Sunday at Founders Heritage Park. Tickets $10 per adult or $15 per family. Programmes at Page and Blackmore, Everyman Records or Possibilities, or check it out online at



- The Nelson Mail

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