As someone whose first Burn event was Kiwiburn – close to home in a stunning part of the Rangitikei region, with a beautiful river for cooling off on those stupidly hot NZ summer days – I often wonder what exactly it is that compels my fellow Kiwis to fly halfway around the world and spend a week in the harsh desert, enduring whiteout dust storms and extreme temperatures, with no river in sight! Then, someone regales me with their sometimes-unique and sometimes-collectively-shared experiences on the Playa and I’m left contemplating if, when, and how I can get myself to Black Rock City.
This year was the first time in three years that Burning Man went ahead, and many of our Kiwi Burner fam, from birgins to veterans, made the trek to BRC. They survived the harsh desert (more rough than previous years by the sounds of things!), had an incredible time, and came back with tales of their Playa adventures.
Laura, Ben, and Infinite Confetti were amongst those who made the trip, and they shared their stories with us:
Laura jumped in the deep end this year and headed off to Waking Dreams for her first ever Burn event – she had tickets to Kiwiburn 2022 but we all know what happened there! Laura set the intention to make it to Burning Man well over a decade ago, so there was a lot of anticipation and her expectations were high, but she says that somehow, all of her expectations were “blown out of the water.”
Ben has participated in Kiwiburn twice and this was his first time at Burning Man. He made the journey with fellow Kiwiburners and had very little expectations for his time on the Playa. Deciding to go in blind, Ben did no research into Burning Man except for what necessities to bring in order to survive. He said upon arrival, he was greeted by someone by the name of Big Willy who decreed that Ben’s first ride out onto the Playa would make him cry – and Big Willy was kinda right! The Playa blew Ben away with its insane size and feeling of otherworldliness (so otherworldly that he felt like he was on a planet in the Star Wars universe).
This was the third time Infinite Confetti participated in Burning Man. She said, “this year felt much harder than previous years. Maybe it was the incessant heat. Maybe it was the more frequent dust storms. Maybe it was because it felt like we had sorta forgotten how to burn after our three year hiatus.”
Both of our first timers give the advice to save your pennies if BRC is on your radar – it is expeeeensive to get there, especially from Aotearoa. They strongly recommend joining a Theme Camp, or at the very least, making the journey with others so you can share resources. Laura says, “It is a communal event after all, so don’t try to do it alone.” Ben reckons he’ll definitely go back, just maybe not every year.
Just like Kiwiburn, Art is a massive part of Burning Man, and this year was no different. Our Kiwis were stunned by the mind-bendingly epic nightly drone shows, which could be seen from just about anywhere on the Playa and were different every night. They loved “Duality”, a seriously stunning piece depicting a black angel and a silver angel embracing. A massive chrome statue of a man and a woman holding hands also blew our Burners away with its sheer scale and beauty. If you’ve seen any photos of the Art that was at BRC this year, you’ll know just how incredible it was and just how creative our community is.
Like the majority of us when we pack for just about anything, each one of our Kiwiburners took a bunch of stuff to Burning Man they thought they’d need, but didn’t end up using at all. For Infinite Confetti, this included “a furry coat, a lucha libre mask, a 5 litre cask of red wine, expectations of how my Burn might unfold, too many pairs of fishnets and a dildo face mask.” Very curious about that dildo face mask!
Ben admits, “We took about three times too much alcohol, three times too many clothes, and about two times too much food. There’s so much being offered to you at every moment that you can easily survive with way less than you think. You’re also partying and it’s super hot so you don’t feel like eating that much. Would definitely bring more smoothies next time for easy energy. Would also bring a compass for the dust storms!”
At the top of Laura’s list of unnecessary items were warm clothes. “It was so hot, both day and night. We are very used to preparing for cold nights here in NZ, and also heard that the nights could get extremely cold, so we came well prepared with all our thermals and woollies, but literally never used them once! The heatwave saw 40+ degree days and 20 degree nights.” She did neglect to take one item that she wishes she thought of – saline nasal spray: “The dust creates maaaaad boogies, and your nose gets pretty wrecked throughout the week.”
The Burn is known for its many challenges, from the weather, to the logistics, to the inevitable not-seeing-eye-to-eye-with-someone in a sea of thousands of other people. A common theme from Burning Man participants this year was that the extreme heat during the day was tough but not impossible to handle, and not enough to put a damper on their experience. Ben remembers, “The heat in the day is pretty wild. It definitely limited me from going and exploring more. I would generally chill at camp in the day and explore in the evening. I don’t think I overcame that, I just went with it.”
While Laura reckoned the heat at BRC was pretty intense, she felt well prepared to deal with it, along with the dust and the general uncomfortableness. “The two toughest aspects for me were the cost and the amount of waste that the whole experience created,” she says. “As we travelled all the way from New Zealand, we of course were limited on what we could bring with us, and what we could take home. There was a lot that had to be purchased to be ‘Radically Self-reliant’ that was subsequently not used. We found that this thought was a common thread amongst the other Kiwis in our camp, as it felt so unnatural to us all to be so wasteful.” She felt that Americans seem to be more accustomed to a ‘one-time-use’ culture, but “for us it was a true moral dilemma. We did our best to bring as much as we could home, and the rest was donated to the local Salvation Army.”
Infinite Confetti struggled the most with something she is calling ‘the 13th Principle: Radical Self-entitlement’. An example of this was her experience of the Effigy Burn: “We were in a space where hundreds of people were sitting down, however two people decided to remain standing. I didn’t agree with their decision but I respected their right to decide how they wanted to participate. The crowd started chanting “sit down, sit down” but they ignored the request. Apparently this was unacceptable to the crowd and it escalated into physically pushing them around, then pushing them to the ground. It was super disappointing to see our Burn family so uncaring and divisive, especially over such a small thing.”
However, there were plenty of positive experiences our Kiwiburners had of seeing the Guiding Principles, crafted to be a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture, in action. Gifting, the unconditional act of giving without expecting something in return, was clearly seen and felt throughout Burning Man 2023. Infinite Confetti had a beautiful moment when she handed out a bunch of op-shop sunglasses she’d carried all the way from New Zealand as gifts. She shares, “It was so joyous to hand out eyeball shade to peeps who were blinking hard against the unexpected morning sunlight.”
Ben saw Gifting in a slightly different light. He shares his experience of the Playa providing, explaining, “I think what was more surprising and amazing was the constant giving of things you needed or desired. It was just never ending. You would be like, ’I kinda feel like a delicious snack’ and then out of nowhere someone would be like, ‘Who wants a delicious snack?’ and you’re just like WTF. That just happens constantly, it’s beautiful. And it’s not just food, it’s things like massages, or photos, or little experiences etc.”
Immediacy also stood out to Ben on a more personal level. His wife accompanied him to Burning Man, having never been to a ‘festival’ before. Ben tells us, “She’s just on the other side of two kids and was pretty disconnected from her body. Her intention was to reclaim her sexuality and flair. And boy did she do that. It was a glorious thing to witness as she just completely gave herself into the experience and was fully present and open to the wonders of it all.”
Laura is deeply inspired to continue Gifting more here in the default world. She’s a jewellery designer and took something pretty unique to share with others on the Playa. “I hand made about 30 pairs of ‘vegan feather’ earrings and trinkets, from 100% recycled materials. I loved gifting these to the campmates I made friends with, and to the random people I connected with while out and about on the Playa. I received a lot of happy tears and hugs whenever I gifted my earrings, and it just filled me up with joy each time.”
Participation was another stand-out for Laura. She says, “This was such a beautiful new concept for me, as I have previously only ever experienced events as either a participant or an organiser. When the gap between creator and experiencer is bridged, everyone has ownership in the event. I loved seeing so many people contribute, from Art Cars to music to Art to performance and even bartending or offering services. It truly felt like a community.”
We asked our Kiwiburners to share their most memorable moments on the Playa – these are the kinds of stories I’m talking about that leave me contemplating if, when, and how I can get myself to BRC.
Ben’s tale goes a little something like this:
“On Friday night we went out to the deep Playa in the hopes of finding Mayan Warrior, the most insane Art car with the best audio system I’ve ever heard in my life. We got out almost as far as you could go and found a stage with these massive lasers, that wasn’t Mayan Warrior.
Then, out of nowhere, came the most insane dust storm. It completely enveloped us and you couldn’t see anything, even 2 metres away. It was crazy how much you lost sense of place. The dust blocks all sound too, so all of a sudden we went from being on ‘party planet’ to being in our own little cocoon of dust and chaos. We decided we needed to get back to civilization, but the journey to get back to the esplanade was long and we didn’t even know what direction it was in.” The group’s sobriety was not at its best, and so a communal decision to “ just walk as a group into the abyss” was taken.
“After about 30 minutes of walking completely blind and having random people appear out of nowhere and zoom past us, we started to hear an ominous vibration. We quickly corrected course and followed the sound. Then, out of nowhere it appeared in all its glory: the Mayan Warrior! It was slowly tracking through the dust storm gathering souls and guiding them to safety.
After a while it had gathered enough humans, like little moths to the flame, and it parked up for a set. This set was one of the most embodied musical experiences I’ve ever had. The sound out of that thing vibrates every cell of your being. There was one song that resonated so strongly within me that it felt like my body was completely dissolved into the vibration of the sound and it was almost like having a full body orgasm. This all the while still being inside a super intense dust storm. I really wanted to get completely naked but I knew that I would be cleaning my bits for weeks if I did that. Certainly was an experience like nothing I’ve had before.”
Infinite Confetti shares a few of her best Playa moments:
“My best moments included reunions with dearly missed, much beloved Burn family members. There were so many tears of uplifting, grateful jubilance to reconnect in the dust.
Another favourite moment was sunrise at the trash fence (clichéd, I know). But I had gone to bed early the night before and gotten an epic sleep, then woke up at 5am and cycled out to find Robot Heart.” It was here that Infinite Confetti bestowed some much needed eyeball shade on some very grateful hippies.
“I shared a few hours drinking gifted bubbles, laughing my ass off with peeps who were revelling in hard-night-induced sunrise f*ckery and deliriously ignoring the potential for Covid and Monkeypox while hugging half a Playa-full of randoms.”
Laura also shares a Mayan Warrior encounter amongst the amalgamation of so many amazing moments:
“For me, it was one whole night that really stood out as the ‘best’. The night began watching Monolink at the Mayan Warrior as the sun set behind the mountains, and ended watching the sun come up across deep Playa to the tune of Goldfish. In between sunrise and sunset, there was so much magic, starting with a huge dust storm that forced us to rely on a nearby Art Car to light the way and help us find the city from deep Playa.
We just smiled and danced behind the car until we found our way back to the city streets, where we eventually took refuge from the dust at a mad hatters tea party, then journeyed through a Japanese alleyway that was jam-packed full of bars, followed by a climb to the top of the thunderdome, before finding more friends at another bar.
It was here that I mentioned to our crew that my fiancé and I had thought about getting married while on the Playa, and that was it…. the next stop was at the nearest ‘chapel’ where we were married while covered in a thick layer of Playa dust and surrounded by our new friends. The night continued for a ‘reception’ back at camp where we made grilled cheese and gin cocktails, before heading back out to boogie till sunrise.”
While Burning Man and Kiwiburn share the same Principles and the same desire for Community, there are some big differences, aside from the landscape! Infinite Confetti reckons, “To me, the biggest differences between KB and BRC are the levels of self expression, and how the respective communities evoke and embrace the fullness of human expression. I find BRC much more inviting and accepting of outrageousness, not to mention downright obnoxiousness, whereas KB tends to be more about ‘love and light’ plus some miscellaneous weirdness thrown in (props to Zeff Camp for bringing it).”
Ben confesses that he prefers Kiwiburn as an overall experience, saying, “I think the scale of Burning Man means there is less intimate connection as everyone is so anonymous. There is also a stronger culture of flashiness at Burning Man. Like the people who dress up super slick to get that photo op etc. I feel like Kiwiburn is more authentic and a little more grunge, which to me is a better vibe. People feel more free at Kiwiburn.”
Whether you’ve been to Burning Man before, or it’s on your list for a future experience, or you have no desire to travel halfway around the world to spend a week in the desert, I’m sure we can all agree that the stories our Kiwiburners came home with after their time on the Playa are graciously received and fill us with excitement for our upcoming time on the Paddock!
A massive thank you to Infinite Confetti, Ben, and Laura for sharing their time, experiences, and epic photos with us!