Journalism researcher Mel Bunce and New Zealand television journalist Paddy Gower will be talking Fake News at this year’s Aspiring Conversations.

Politicians, writers, researchers, historians and musicians from New Zealand, Australia and London feature in the programme for Wanaka’s Aspiring Conversations Ideas Festival to be held in April.

Aspiring Conversations Ideas Festival 2020 takes place in Wanaka from Friday 3 to Sunday 5 April and features 11 events with high-calibre speakers, writers and thinkers discussing and debating the issues of today.

Festival director Philip Tremewan says this year’s programme reflects the issues which are most pressing today and promises to be thought-provoking and inspiring.

“It’s a chance for us to gather to listen and discuss, to question and reflect on issues that affect us all. There are threads and connections through the festival as a session on mortality segues into singing the blues, while a climate crisis discussion sits up against loving where we live.”

New for 2020 is a free event taking place on the pavement in central Wanaka on Saturday 4 April at lunchtime. The Streetside Soapbox – Big Issues, Short Talks is a line-up of quickfire (five-minute) soapbox talks and slam poetry on a wide range of topics. Chlöe Swarbrick will be kicking it off, and the festival is calling for applications for the other speaker slots!

Already announced is the festival’s opening event ‘New Kids on the Block’ with Marilyn Waring and Chlöe Swarbrick discussing their experiences of the battles of political life and what has changed (and what hasn’t) in the years across their terms in Parliament.

Climate change continues to be a major topic at all levels, but often people doubt whether the differences they make at home can really matter. Scientist Shaun Hendy spent a year without flying and used an electric car on the roads. In ‘A Careful Revolution’ he is joined by Wellington local body politician and climate change portfolio leader Tamatha Paul, and researcher and author David Hall to discuss careful climate change revolution and whether individual lifestyle changes really can make a difference.

Keeping it close to home, researcher and writer Philip Morrison and writers Fiona Farrell and Chessie Henry explore ideas around ‘Loving Where We Live’ and how where we live impacts on our lives and what happens when that place is fractured by disaster.

Where we come from and the stories of place are important to all of us. Lakes Wānaka and Hāwea are part of an ancestral landscape of immense cultural significance to Ngāi Tahu, but many of the region’s original place names and stories were rendered invisible through colonisation. In ‘Mapping the Ancestral Landscapes of Te Waipounamu’, Takerei Norton, Helen Brown and Sir Tipene O’Regan (pictured) from the Ngāi Tahu Archive team take us on a journey through the history and stories of the region.

While American president Donald Trump refers to critical journalism as “fake news”, there is a bigger issue of fake stories spreading through social media and into society. In the session ‘Fake News’, former ODT columnist turned London journalism researcher and teacher Mel Bunce and New Zealand television journalist Paddy Gower turn the spotlight on truth and lies in global media and throughout society.

Talking about death is generally a taboo, but Australian oncologist, broadcaster and writer Dr Ranjana Srivastava believes that in order to die well, we must face our own mortality and talk about it with family and friends. In ‘Death Becomes Us’, she is joined by poet and doctor Glenn Colquhoun to discuss dealing with the deaths of friends and family, and facing our own inevitable passing.

When Shihad frontman Jon Toogood (pictured) met the diplomat’s daughter in Melbourne he wasn’t expecting the journey that followed – converting to Islam, marrying in a traditional Sudanese wedding and bringing up their children as Muslims. In New Zealand. The Christchurch terror attacks shook him as a Muslim and a Kiwi. He talks about his experiences in ‘Musician, Muslim, Kiwi’.

Every year the festival mixes music, song and discussion and this year brings together four New Zealand musicians to talk to music journalist Nick Bollinger about how the blues has inspired them. They’ll each be performing songs that capture something of its spirit and power. Sharing their experiences in ‘Singing The Blues’ will be Zoë Moon, Coco Davis (Daffodils),  Tom Rodwell and Darren Watson.

Speakers are yet to be announced for the session ‘Sustainability’. “We have always held one session open to announce speakers closer to the festival to reflect current events,” Tremewan says. “This year we’ll be looking to bring a high-calibre speaker to discuss the challenge of sustainability.”

Aspiring Conversations takes place at the Lake Wanaka Centre from Friday 3 to Sunday 5 April.

General ticket sales for the Festival start from 8:30am on Friday 14 February.

How to book your tickets

There are three ways to get tickets for the Aspiring Conversations ideas festival!

Come see our friendly staff at the Festival Box Office in the Lake Wanaka Centre. We will be open on Friday 14 February from 8.30am to 2pm and Saturday 15 February 10am to 2pm, for cash and eftpos sales. The Box Office will also be open during the festival from 9am on Friday April 3.

Book online at

Call our ticketing telephone on 022 4 TIX NOW (022 4 849 669).

General ticket sales for the Festival start from 8:30am on Friday 14 February.Priority ticket sales for our Benefactor, Patron and Sponsor supporters are available now.


Sponsors corner

A word from Milford Asset Management

Our partnership began in 2014 and we are delighted to again be a principal sponsor for the Aspiring Conversations event this year.

We strongly believe in actively supporting and partnering with organisations that are enriching the community. Both the Aspiring Conversations and the Festival of Colour are great events which help to inspire, motivate and pique the curiosity of both locals and visitors alike.

Dedicated to growing the wealth of our investors and making a positive contribution to our community, we were founded in 2003 and have over $8 billion in funds under management.  Our offices are in Auckland, Wanaka, Christchurch and Sydney.

We were founded with three guiding principles; an active investment philosophy, investing into the same funds as our clients, and long term staff ownership, and we offer an extensive range of investment services and products from KiwiSaver, investment funds and private equity to wealth management and advice.

Love our festivals? Show us your support!

Our Patron and Benefactor supporters are a crucial part of our funding mix – ticket sales only covered 28% of our costs for the 2018 Aspiring Conversations. The rest of our expense are paid for through the support of grantmakers, sponsors and private supporters like you!

Our 2020 festival of ideas will run from April 3-5, 2020.

It’s easy to renew or join online here on our website.

Or you can:

  • direct deposit your donation into our Southern Lakes Arts Festival Trust account with your name as a reference
  • post or drop off a cheque to the festival office: PO Box 630, Wanaka, 9343
  • get directly in touch with General Manager Laura Williamson on, or on 443 4172.