Halfway around the world, over 10,000 miles (around 16,000 kilometers) from home, a Norwegian émigré has helped build a thriving Viking festival that attracts hordes of Norse enthusiasts from all over New Zealand and beyond for two days of combat, crafts, music, and mead.
The Viking Herald speaks to Eva Renbjør about why a Scandinavian enclave in New Zealand's Manawatū-Whanganui region is the perfect venue for the Norsewood Viking Festival, a celebration of all things Norse.
Norsewood, now home to Eva from Norway, proudly displays its Scandinavian culture, including a replica stave church. Photo: PerPlex (CC BY-SA 3.0)
A home from home
"I am originally from Trondheim, in Norway," begins Eva, who co-manages the festival.
"In 2003, I built myself a cabin in New Zealand. At first, I only spent three or four months there each year. For the last five years, however, I have been working here in Norsewood and only go back to Norway for holidays."
The small town of Norsewood was founded by Norwegian immigrants in 1872 and is located just 20 miles (roughly 32 kilometers) from Dannevirke, another New Zealand town with a significant Scandinavian influence.
In addition to the name of the town itself, which references the Norse people, of course, as well as the dense forests in the area – Norsewood was originally a logging town – you can also find road names such as Odin Street and Viking Street.
"My partner, Gustav, and I live on Thor Street," Eva says. "Everyone is very proud of their Scandinavian heritage. The town celebrates the national Norwegian holiday every year on May 17, while the kids at school learn Norwegian folk dancing."
Eva also informs us that Norsewood is home to a Scandinavian-themed apparel company, Norsewear, has a genuine stave church, a replica Scandinavian farmhouse, and a Norwegian museum.
Not to mention its very own Viking festival, thanks to a flash of inspiration.
The Norsewood Viking Festival provides an array of activities, from archery and axe throwing to a tug of war and combat competition. Photo: Norsewood Viking Festival
A popular phenomenon
"Six years ago, one of my friends from Norway, Mona Utheim, came to visit. We were sitting and talking about history, and she said how it would be really cool to do a Viking festival."
"She went back to Norway, and three months later, I called her to tell her that I was starting a new festival – I had now become a Viking in New Zealand!"
Together with the festival's other manager, Jamie Hughes, Eva has used the site as a vital source of good ideas: "We have been back to Njardarheimr four times," Eva admits. "We have some truly great friends there."
Given her links to historical reenactment, Norwegian culture, and the vibrant Scandinavian culture in her new home, founding her very own festival made perfect sense for Eva.
"Many people throughout New Zealand have Scandinavian blood and Viking links. I invited all the Viking clubs in the country to attend the first festival, and we ended up with about 2,500 visitors."
"This year, we expect around 6,000 attendees for the weekend. We have been very lucky – we've appeared on TV, been featured in newspapers, and have also received radio coverage."
The festival features a Viking village where visitors can experience authentic Viking culture, with many reenactors extending their visits to embrace the full Viking lifestyle. Photo: Norsewood Viking Festival
An authentic Norse experience
The 2024 Norsewood Viking Festival will take place on February 3-4, and Eva tells us that visitors can look forward to the settlement's very own Viking village, which presents an authentic recreation of Viking life through period costumes, handcrafts, and Norse storytelling.
In fact, the village experience is so popular that many reenactors choose to extend their stay outside the main festival.
"Lots of Vikings arrive four days before the start of the festival and often stay a little bit longer afterward as well so they can try and live an authentic Viking life," Eva reports.
"We have a tug of war, a combat competition, plenty of food stalls, as well as a Viking market selling all sorts of crafts. We also have music on the stage throughout the day – there is something for everyone," Eva tells us.
This year, the musical acts include SonVanger, a mythical musical duo, the singer-songwriter Maria Williams, and the ever-popular Ragnarockers, who have been invited to play at the Norsewood Viking Festival every year since its inception.
Of course, the ever-enterprising Eva also has plenty of plans for the future.
"We are also working together with the historical town of Stiklestad in Norway, and plans are underway to build a longhouse here in New Zealand. We believe it will be the first-ever longhouse in the Southern Hemisphere."
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