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The Controversy Over Five Tons of Imported Party Mud

Locals in New Zealand say it’s like importing sand to the desert.

A mud bubble in a Rotorua mud pool.
A mud bubble in a Rotorua mud pool. denisbin/CC BY-ND 2.0

Rotorua, a town on New Zealand’s North Island, is known for its Maori heritage and geothermal activity—including bubbling pools of mud. The sulfurous muck is both a source of local pride and tourism, and the sloppy heart of the annual Mudtopia festival, which is kicking off this December. In addition to homegrown musical acts, the expected 100,000 guests can tough it out in the Mud Arena, Mud Games Zone, and Mud Run, or simply slip into the Mud Day Spa.

But angry New Zealanders have begun slinging mud over the local council’s decision to spend some $68,000 on five tons of mud powder (just add water) from distant Boryeong, South Korea. The powder is intended to be used over the next five Mudtopia festivals, the New Zealand Herald reports. The expense, unearthed by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, has been called “beyond imagination. It’s like Dubai importing sand for a Desert festival.”

But organizers counter that the five imported tons are little to worry about, and that 85 percent of the festival’s muck will come from a quarry in the area. The South Korean mud, they told the Herald, is a premium product, to give “Mudtopia visitors a different type of mud for a hands-on experience.”

There are safety concerns, too. “I know there’s a perception that Rotorua has enough mud,” local councillor Trevor Maxwell said. “But you can’t just pull any old mud out of the ground and throw it at people. There could be anything in there that could end up making people sick.”

Revelers at the 2008 Boryeong Mud Festival in South Korea.
Revelers at the 2008 Boryeong Mud Festival in South Korea. Tom Rivers/CC BY 2.0

Boryeong, which is known for its mineral-rich beach mud, is at this very moment holding a similar festival of its own. The Boryeong Mud Festival has been taking place each July for nearly 20 years, and has more than two million visitors annually. Rotorua is trying to piggyback off that success, but some think that tracking in mud from its inspiration is just a dirty trick.