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Alex Turnbull is the founder of Rhythm & Alps.

In the words of author Margaret Wheatley, “there is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about”. For Wānaka, this couldn’t be more true, as one of the values most dear to our hearts is community (Whanui).

But just as no person is an island, no community is just a collective. Communities like ours exist and thrive due to the actions of individuals; our local residents and visitors, who choose consciously to make compassion, respect and care for our little corner of the world, a daily practice. In essence, this is what it means to be a good human. Acknowledgement of the world around us, and acting in a way that respects the land and people that comprise it.

One of those humans we’re proud to call a Wānaka local is Alex Turnbull. As the founder of Rhythm & Alps festival, Alex is responsible for thousands of guests each year travelling to the South Island to enjoy our beautiful town. We sat down to chat to Alex about what being a good human means to him, and how he encourages guests to celebrate, care for, and be part of our shared community.

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For Alex, Wānaka has always been a living breathing part of Rhythm & Alps. “We’re not selling tickets to a festival, we’re selling tickets to a location”, he says. “With people here for up to a week, and our festival on for 3 days, people are swimming, fishing, attending local events and soaking up our town”. This has always been part of the festival’s appeal and a significant drawcard for its attendees. 

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This has played no small part in Rhythm & Alps’ push to shape a culture of consideration, shared commitment, care for the environment and each other. “We really want to instill in people that their actions have an impact. Whether it’s looking out for friends, or limiting the rubbish they create, even encouraging them to take it home; we live in a beautiful part of the world and we need to look after it”, Alex says. ‘Be a good human’ and ‘turn the love up’ have been ideas used to drive this message of sustainable travel and regenerative tourism home.

A key part of this message for Alex, is also the idea of giving, rather than taking. “We like to encourage people to think about what they can contribute. We’re all coming to this place to share an experience, why not leave something positive behind?”. Whether this is applauding a band, picking up rubbish to help their volunteers, or grabbing your festival outfit secondhand from Wānaka Wasterbusters instead of going the fast fashion route, this ethos has made the festival a welcoming and positive space in the New Zealand festival scene. 

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This idea couldn’t be more pressing than at a time of widespread global disruption. Rhythm & Alps recognises the need people have to connect with one another, and have positive communal experiences. From the energy at their concerts that in Alex’s words, “remains long after the crowd has gone”, to connecting with the land and earth outside of the festival in the wider Wānaka district, Alex’s view has always been to provide these experiences in the best possible way. 

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He also recognises the potential the festival has to drive wider social change and a regenerative approach for the Wānaka community. With charities often tied to the event, and festival-goers encouraged to give back, Rhythm & Alps has contributed to reforestation efforts and other sustainability initiatives that have helped to care for and preserve our Wānaka home and natural resources. The principles of  kaitiakitanga, have never been more relevant or urgent, as we look to what we want to leave behind for future generations.

In essence, this is the heart of regenerative tourism. It isn’t simply sustainability or economic efforts, but truly conscious travel. Travel where you rethink your impact, considering each action you take as a guest in a new place. Making efforts to meet the local communities, support local businesses and support the local economy and ecology. 

And with this, ‘being a good human’ becomes a necessity. A recognition of efforts both small and large, whether placing rubbish in a bin during your travels, coordinating a national festival or driving a charitable initiative, all of us have the power to champion these values, demonstrate them and leave an impact. Much like the resonant afterglow of a festival experience, your actions in Wānaka remain long after you pack up your tent and leave. From the locals you’ve interacted with and left positive impressions on, respect for culture, our indigenous first inhabitants of this land, embracing Te Reo Maori, to environmental care and being a tidy ‘kiwi’, every action you take can leave an enduring impression.

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What will yours be this summer?

#lovewānaka