The aromatic scent of exotic flavours drifts across the air, while not far away a group of women draped in beautiful, brightly  coloured traditional dress captivates the crowd with a mesmerising dance.

Since 1995, the Taranaki Multi Ethnic Extravaganza has been a much-anticipated event on the calendar, and each year the event has become bigger and brighter, with dozens of food stalls showcasing authentic ethnic cuisine and a wide range of cultural groups providing traditional and cultural entertainment.

It’s a celebration of culture and a celebration of the flavour of Taranaki, brought together for all the community to enjoy.

Held on Taranaki Anniversary weekend each March, upwards of 10,000 people attend the extravaganza at the New Plymouth Racecourse and, at the street parade that precedes it, more than 100 groups walk through the CBD proudly displaying their national flag.

And behind it all is the Taranaki Multi Ethnic Council, which was established in 1994 and was initially formed in response to the large numbers of migrant workers coming into the region for the oil and gas industry and other industries.

“There was no support for these people and the council was set up to change that,” explains Taranaki Multi Ethnic Council vice president and extravaganza marketing coordinator Lance Mepham.

Since then, the council has played a key role alongside local organisations in helping thousands of migrants, from more than 60 ethnic groups, settle in Taranaki and build new lives, while also enabling the Taranaki community to learn more about other cultures.

“The council’s motto is Building Bridges of Friendship, and our goal has always been to break down barriers, bring people together from different cultures, share ideas, and foster understanding,” Lance says.

The Taranaki Multi Ethnic Council supports and works alongside local community group Migrant Connections Taranaki, the region’s councils and the Government’s Office of Ethnic Communities to provide new arrivals with help for everyday tasks.

“Many of these people now say they feel they belong in Taranaki.”

It also holds smaller annual events, such as the Spring Fiesta night and the family fun day, however the big one is the Taranaki Multi Ethnic Extravaganza, which has funding support from a number of local organisations and businesses.

“We were the 13th multi ethnic council to be formed in New Zealand, but we were the first to have an extravaganza of this kind – we’re really proud of that,” says Lance.

“Taranaki set the platform and we have helped other cities develop their own festivals since.”

The council is also proud of the multicultural region Taranaki has become.

“Taranaki has been so amazing and receptive to all these people. It has fantastic community organisations and there’s so much to offer here,” says Lance.

“Migrants are really important to the region’s growth. Many come here with nothing, but they’ve now got their own homes, good jobs or their own businesses, and good schooling for their kids – they’re happy and their kids are happy.