The annual World Buskers Festival in Christchurch, New Zealand attracts the most weird and wonderful street performers from around the globe. Tamara Pitelen heads down under to check it out.

Bendy Em gets herself into a bit of a squeeze at the World Buskers Festival in Christchurch New Zealand.

There are lots of things you can do to earn a living. Conventional career paths generally involve offices, schools, shops or factories but this isn’t the road for everyone. No, some people prefer to put food on the table by hammering four inch nails into their skull via their nostrils, juggling burning firebrands while riding a unicycle across a tightrope or squeezing their entire bodies into small plastic boxes for the amusement of passers by.

These people are buskers (if they’re not buskers, they’re masochists or exhibitionists but that’s another story) and they can be spotted on street corners the world over, giving it their all for anybody who’ll stop and watch in the hope a few coins – or preferably notes – will be tossed into their upended hat.

Why do they do it? It sure as hell beats me. They put up with precarious weather, hecklers, indifference, and an unreliable income with no sick leave or pension contributions. That said, they do look like they’re having fun and I’m in a position to say that after having recently spent days and days watching acts from around the globe at the World Buskers Festival in Christchurch, New Zealand.

If you’re a fan of street performance but don’t have the money to trawl the world to see the best acts, you’re in luck. Just get to Christchurch in January and they’ll all come to you because the top circus, street and comedic talent congregate there each year to take part in the Festival.

For 10 days and 11 nights, the streets of this pretty city – which has a reputation for being more English than anything you’ll find in England – take on a carnival atmosphere as jugglers, contortionists, musicians, clowns, musicians, stand-up comedians, aerialists, living statues, sideshow artists, acrobats take over the parks and pavements to energetically ply their wares to large and appreciative mostly Kiwi crowds. More than 450 live shows can be seen, including special shows for kids. This year acts included

Canadian acrobatic duo Les Vitamines, Kiwi funny freak Sam Wills (he who drills nail-into his head and dislocates his shoulder to squeeze himself through a tennis racket) as well as comedy Kiwi stunt jugglers and witty banterers, the Motley Two. There was the pretzel-like English contortionist Bendy Em who folds herself into a small plastic box, Israeli aerialists Cirque No Problem, who do a side-splittingly funny version of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ while dangerously chucking themselves around in the air. There’s also USA stuntman extraordinaire Slackwire Sam and Guinness World Record Holder, The Yo Yo Guy.

As well as the day shows dotted all over the city – most of which are free although donations are actively encouraged – venues around the city have shows every night for adult audiences where the focus is more on stand-up comedy. This is where I ended up rolling around the floor clutching my ribs thanks to the verbal brilliance of Australian comedian Mickey D.

Yep, it’s a fun time to be in the Garden City of New Zealand. The weather is fantastic and the natives are friendly because many of them are still on holiday.

Still, is balancing precariously on a flimsy bit of rope while chucking razor-sharp knives around your head a proper way to earn a crust? Who cares, it’s a good laugh.

What: The World Buskers Festival Christchurch
Where: Well, Christchurch obviously. Which is in the middle of New Zealand’s South Island (if you’re going all that way, tag on a couple of extra days for day trips to places a couple of hours out of Christchurch, eg, swim with the dolphins in the French town of Akaroa, soak in the thermal hot pools of Hanmer Springs or do a wine tour of Canterbury’s vineyards).
Weather: Fabulous! January and February are the hottest months of the year in New Zealand so take your sunscreen and a hat (there’s a bit of a problem with the ozone layer down that side of the globe, that is, it’s got a big hole in it).
For more information: Visit and Also, please note that the annual festival will still take place every January even after the damage done by the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.
Cost: Most acts in the festival are free, others involve door charges of NZ$2 to NZ$10… although the buskers are not shy with their buckets and cajoling but since they don’t get paid to perform at the festival, who can blame them?

Get Tamara Pitelen’s new book called Spokes, Blokes and Blarney, all about the time she spent three months cycling around Ireland in search of twinkly-eyed Irish men for husband material (think ‘Bill Bryson meets Bridget Jones’). It’s on Amazon in print at  and on Kindle at Or, get a free copy on PDF! Just send an email to spokesblokesandblarney@gmail.comwith the subject heading ‘ Free copy of Spokes please ‘ and you’ll get an automated reply with a link to a free download. Just make sure you have Free copy of Spokes please in the subject head.

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