With a loud “chee hoo” and a whole lot of chop suey the Pasifika Festival in the Bay of Plenty is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year and the festival is going to be bigger and brighter than ever.

This year’s performance will be held at Sydenham Botanical Park next to Brookfield Primary School in Tauranga on Wednesday October 30th from 9am – 2pm.

Chair of the Pasifika in the Bay Trust and Arataki Primary School teacher Melanie Cottingham (Niue/England) says the trust crew is as excited as ever about the event and are “incredibly proud” of how it has grown.

“We started out five years ago with Gate Pa Primary School at the helm applying for funding to have the event at Te Akau ki Papamoa, with just five early childhood centres and primary schools taking part. This year we have more than 1000 performers registered from 29 ECEs, primary, intermediate and secondary schools from all around the bay.”

It is a common misconception that there is a large Pasifika population in the Bay of Plenty, Ms Cottingham explains.

“This is the only exclusively Pasifika event held in Tauranga. Last year there were just 1544 Pasifika students enrolled in our area schools, so I am hoping that with one thousand performers registered that a large percentage of those are our Pasifika students.”

Ms Cottingham herself leads her Arataki Primary school’s Pasifika group. This year they will be performing a Niuean song; a ukulele number from Tahiti and they’ll take part in a combined hula from the Cook Islands.

She says the exponential growth of the Pasifika event is indicative of the need for that visibility in the community.

“The initial start-up came from the Pasifika Education Plan which talked about engaging Pasifika communities which will then help our Pasifika kids in their outcomes at schools.

“The event increases awareness and knowledge in the performer’s schools – the students and the teachers, and their wider communities learn about the Pacific Islands represented on the day. It’s a chance for the performers to see their culture being placed at school outside of church and family events. At Arataki, we perform our dress rehearsal at school. The more knowledge others have of our culture and communities the more they engage with us. It’s great to be able to show others that Pasifika culture is so varied and different. We’re not just a hula.

“We’re really excited by the inclusivity of our event. This year Tauranga Intermediate’s Special School is taking part. It’s beautiful.  And it’s awesome watching our ECE kids looking up to the primary school kids who in turn look up to the intermediate and college performers; having the older kids teach the younger ones. ”

Ms Cottingham says their Trust crew has all the right skills in all the right places from her background in event management to Mike Douglas a teacher from Te Puke Primary School who’s great at stage production and Annette Laban on marketing.  We have great volunteers too.  Andre Jay from Tahatai School on logistics, Beks Whyte coordinating the stalls and Alva Talopau on finances, Emma Sutton marketing, Holly Douglas and Cole Douglas on social media and graphics, Simon on logistics and MC Rob Tuilave.

It is the first year the event has been run independently of a school. This means the Trust has had to find another $5000 to fund the Health and Safety component of the event. The group spends a LOT of time applying for funding.  We are all volunteers, says Ms Cottingham.

“We do it every year  because we love it. We get funding from different funding streams, including the Ministry of Education, but we would love to find a sponsor.  It’s a way to celebrate kids the ministry is keen to help in terms of outcomes; and it’s just a wonderful event to be a part of.”

Ms Cottingham says those coming should get there early as without fail despite catering for more food every year, kai runs out by lunchtime.

“The first year we had three food trucks – this year we have 23. My favourite is chop suey and taro and for the first time we’ve got Cook Island donuts. That’s where you’ll find me – I can’t wait.”


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