NZ second longest running Community Festival

The Kowhai Festival is a community festival, that takes place every October in and around Warkworth. It’s organised by a dedicated group of volunteers, who are maintaining a tradition since 1970, celebrating all the things that make Rodney such a great place to live, work and play – gorgeous scenery, delicious food and wine, talented artists and musicians, diverse culture, fantastic recreational opportunities and, above all, a welcoming and supportive community spirit.






49th Kowhai Festival: Wild West

12 September 2018

Under the theme ‘Wild West’ this year’s Kowhai Festival runs from 21 October to 4 November with the Huge Day Out on Saturday 27 October in Warkworth. It’s the second longest running community festival in New Zealand that offers many events for residents and visitors of any age.

Huge Day Out with great Line-Up

Always up for improvements, Phil Tyler, Musical Director of the festival, decided to go for two stages side by side at the riverfront, to minimise the transition time between acts. The show will start at 9am with Kapa Haka groups from Matakana and Warkworth Primary Schools and keep on going until the Garden Bar closes at 6pm. There will be local musicians on stage like ‘Seven Zen’ aka Riley Popham or Lauren Collins, as well as the returning ‘Texas Storm’ and ’The Drive’. But the theme ‘Wild West’ cries for country music performed by Jamie McDell and Donna Dean. Both singers have recorded albums in the US and while Jamie is still new on the scene, Donna has produced already 7 albums. Her composition ‘Destination Life’ from her debut album was the title track of 2009 Grammy nominated Bluegrass album by American artist Rhonda Vincent.

The ‘food strip’ at the Warkworth wharf was always a highlight and with an even bigger Garden Bar, not only offering local wines and beers, but also local food, will be definitely worth a visit. It will be close to the main stage, so you won’t miss a beat.

Besides over 100 stalls, there will be kids entertainment (including a new 30m long obstacle course) but also a riding bull for the older generation to show off their skills from 9am until 3pm. The Warkworth and districts Dog training club will entertain the interested audience with several demonstrations in agility. This proofed to be a very successful and popular addition to the festival last year and it pays to be there early to get a good viewing spot.

A new addition is the Vitality Village in the Winscombe Mall carpark next to Paper Plus, which is host to various health practitioners such as life coaching, massage, Bowen, chiro and reflexology therapists, personal trainers and nutritionists as well as natural products for sale like botanicals, minerals and essential oils. There will be lots to see, taste and do – you might like to try boot camp, tai chi, dance fitness or even have a go at a new sport or leisure activity.

Events around the Huge Day Out

The festival starts traditionally with the Open Day of the Warkworth and Districts Museum on Sunday 21 October, with all the vintage machinery up and running. The Canoe-Showdown has been moved to Sunday 28 October: it’s a traditional canoe race down the river, with a special offer of a 2km time trial, where you can borrow a canoe so you don’t need to bring your own. On the same day there’s also a one hour special heritage cruise on the Historic Jane Gifford (10.30am) with an optional add-on Warkworth heritage trail walk starting at 11.30am.

Openair Cinema and Great Debate

On Friday 26 October we’re proud to celebrate the 10th Kowhai Festival Movie Night, with the classic Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western ‘A Fistful of Dollars’. The movie – going along with this years ‘Wild West’ theme – starts just after 8pm while there will be some relaxing music and a coffee stall from 7pm. Families are welcome to bring their own seating and picnic to the event sponsored by Barfoot & Thompson Real Estate. On Friday 2 November, the Warkworth Great Debate takes again place at the Warkworth Town Hall. The organisers were able to get David Nottage, an international toastmaster winner, along to be on the toastmasters team while Darryl Soljan will be the adjudicator. The fun, lighthearted event that raises funds for the Warkworth/Wellsford Hospice, is sponsored by Mike Pero Real Estate.





48th Kowhai Festival

18 December 2017

The Kowhai Festival Committee has decided to hold the Huge Day Out on Saturday, 28 October 2017. It’s the first time, the main event of the festival was held after Labour Weekend, but it didn’t influence on the success of the Huge Day Out. For weeks in advance the stall sites were sold out and the weather played its part, although a few showers came down in Auckland, which had an impact on visitor numbers from the city. One of the highlights was the newly set-up dog show, which has been organised by the Warkworth Dog Club. Well trained dogs showed off what they’ve learned and it proofed to be a big success with the audience. The Halloween theme has had mixed reactions, but a lot of stallholders and shop owners took it up and dressed accordingly. So did many kids, who came along, enjoying the entertainment provided along Baxter and Queen streets.

Events around the festival proved to be as popular as ever, with the Great Debate (sponsored by Mike Pero Real estate) for the first time held at the newly restored Town Hall and the outdoor movie night (sponsored by Barfoot & Thompson).





  • Murray Chapman (Chair)
  • Trudy Franklin (Finance)
  • Ruth Mills (Sponsorship)
  • Dianne Hopgood (Secretary)
  • Warwick Massey (Consents/Canoe Showdown Link)
  • Phil Tyler (Music/Merchandise/Stages)
  • Darrell McNab / Ruth Mills (Stalls)
  • Barry Houlbrooke (Special Attractions)
  • Angela Thomas (Promotion)
  • Urs Bauer (Website/Movie Night)
  • Lauren Vaughn (Social Media)
  • Shona Pickup (Volunteers)
  • Cynthia and Justin Oliver (Garden Bar)
  • Gary Martin (Dog Show)
  • Peter Bishop (Traffic)
  • David Parker (Walk & Cruise)


By Ken Fearnley

(published as letter to the editor in Mahurangi Matters)

The festival was really the brainchild of Jack Keys; Jack was a very modest man and would never have claimed to be the inventor.

Jack was the driving force, the energy and the creator of the festival. Back in 1970 almost anything done around Warkworth was done by the three main service clubs: Lions, Rotary and Jaycee. Jaycee’s was the most active of the three service clubs, its very nature – young men aged between 18 years and 40 years – ensured the energy required for its many projects. Jack came to me, a member of Jaycee in mid 1970, with the Kowhai Festival idea. He knew that if Jaycee would support the idea, then the other clubs would follow suit.

Jaycee’s got behind the festival with great enthusiasm. A Kowhai Festival committee was formed, its members made up of the three service clubs. I was voted chairman and Jack, representing Rotary, was secretary. It was decided to have a week of fun. We had no money, but didn’t see that as a problem as each event would be self funded or provided by its promoter. My favourite event was the Old Time Music Hall, each of the artists came from the local community, the Town Hall was packed out, beer served and there was much laughter to accompany it. One act has stuck in my memory. The artist was Gordon Cummings, the local Traffic Officer.

Gordon strode up to the microphone and began to sing. The hall went silent as each person there was enthralled by his wonderful singing voice. When he finished the applause nearly brought the roof down. The festival’s beginning took many hours of dedicated activity from those on the committee and the many clubs, organisations and individuals involved. It is wonderful to see the result of those who dedicated so much time and effort to get it off the ground, develop into something that gives so many a great deal of pleasure.

Huge Day Out Programme 2015
Huge Day Out Programme 2016
Huge Day Out Programme 2017


Click on the below photo collage to get to the Kowhai Festival gallery on our Facebook page: