Guerrilla kindness: Anonymous strangers spread messages of hope around Wānaka

The entrance to the supermarket or the petrol station pump are not exactly the places you’d think to go to for inspiration on how to live a happier life — but in Wānaka, these are a couple of places where you’ll find it.

A few weeks ago, locals began noticing these mysterious messages popping up all over the place.

I walked out of the supermarket in town one morning and spotted a handwritten message stuck to the wall with duct tape.

“You don’t need to be liked by everybody. You don’t even like everybody,” the message said.

Fast forward to earlier this week, and a fellow local posted a photo of a different message, this one stuck to the wall of the petrol pump just on the edge of town (not far from a couple of great pubs, may I add).

“You carry so much love in your heart. Don’t forget to save some for yourself,” this one said.

People shared others they’d spotted – at the entrance to the local cinema (the one that bakes you a cookie while you’re watching the first half of the movie), on the back of road signs, and in other places I can’t quite recognise but hope to spot soon.

“You deserve the empathy you give others,” one of them says.

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“Once you’ve done your part, let go,” another one, to hit you right in the feelings.

Every single one of them a message that, at one time or another, we all need to read.

“You’re becoming more of yourself each day. That’s something to celebrate.”

As it often happens with small towns, it didn’t take me long to find out who were these mysterious do-gooders duct-taping positivity all over the place.

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Through a mutual connection, they heard that I was searching, and got in touch. They agreed to talk about what they’re doing, but didn’t want to reveal who they are – not even to me – so I sent “Person 1” and “Person 2” a few questions about why on Earth they were being so nice to everyone.

Their goal, as they describe in their anonymous Instagram account, is to spread “aroha to the Wānaka hapori”.

They told me they got the idea from “a few online activists who had been doing similar work overseas”.

“The first poster drop we put out was around mid January, and since we have done a couple more. We’re also hopefully planning another few for the near future,” they said.

No one really knows who they are – and they intend to keep it that way.

“We have made the decision to remain anonymous as we believe that the posters will have a greater effect when they aren’t related directly to someone within the community,” they said.

“People can make their own assumptions and form unbiased opinions on the posters without having to be swayed by their viewpoint on us. We also don’t wish to gain anything from it. We are just two individuals set out to inspire change in the ways we see ourselves, our relationships and our wider perspectives.”

It wasn’t until the post went up on the local Facebook group that they realised people were really taking notice of the messages. There was also one particularly rewarding moment, when a poster they’d stuck to the side of the entrance to Holy Skin Tattoo, a great tattoo place right in town, was then moved to the door. “It was nice to see the store owners embracing it,” they recalled.

“Our goal, both with this project and personally is to share the affirmations that people need to hear more often,” they said.

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“In doing this we hope to open up the conversation for discussing the things we carry internally. Often the topics we are most afraid of, are the ones most worth talking about. Once this all starts to happen, we hope it will create a roll-on effect of change within our hapori. With each person that takes something away from one of our displays, they would pay it forward,” they hope.

Like many other towns that heavily relied on tourism, Wānaka is hurt. Covid punched the town right in the gut, then left it to bleed out on the footpath. Bowed but never broken, it carries on, lifting every one of its people with it.

In Wānaka, at least, inspiration is everywhere: in the sparkly lake at dusk on a summer’s evening like this evening, on top of the snowy peaks that surround the town like a big bear hug, or stuck with duct tape to the petrol station pump. There’s no wrong place to search for a bit of beauty and hope — you’ve just got to look for it.

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