Busking and Vanlife in New Zealand, South Island

April 2015

The South Island of New Zealand was definitely on our list for top places we wanted to visit, regardless of whether it would be good for busking or not. This was also the first designation that we were going to travel through by camper van. It definitely inspired us to take on the vanlife for travelling! After hearing there were more sheep than people here, we grabbed guitars and went to see how this beautiful country would treat us.


The busking adventures in the South Island began at Christchurch airport. We chose to hire a Jucy Cabana from the Jucy rental that was just a few minutes ride from the airport. There was even a minibus service that ran a pick up between them for free! The roads were full of these campers, every time another drove by, you gave a wave to each other. It felt like being part of a travelling community!

We made the decision to pass on busking in the centre of Christchurch, unsure what the effect the earthquakes would have had on the city. In the centre was a collection of cool, shipping contained shops but around that there were still a lot of rubble and empty buildings. This small shopping area was bright and lively, but it still did not feel right to attempt a busk here.

After a brief food stock at Pak ‘n Save, the first campsite was Lake Pukaki. The next morning the lake was beautiful and bright blue, with Mt Cook far in the distance.  The DOC Campsites were a great resource for finding overnight sleep spots. The first one came to $5 a night! It was bliss after being used to spending $20 on hostel accommodation. The Wiki Camps NZ app was also invaluable to have, with a great GPS and map for the whole country. Thankfully it was also useable offline, which was an added bonus. It also had information on where to get things like showers, like there were a few at swimming pools, where it cost around $2 to use their shower.


The towns between Christchurch and Queenstown were few and so we made the decision to stop up in the tiny (village/hamlet?) of Twizel. All that was there, was a street and a car park, but in the spirit of ‘We’ll busk anywhere’ we gave it a go, outside the small supermarket. $50 and a free packet of salt and vinegar crisps later we left, feeling pretty accomplished! At the same time, we felt it was probably time to move on to somewhere else.


Wanaka is home to another beautiful lake, and the sun was blazing. Busking spots were few though, without being an obstruction. There were no pedestrian areas really, after deciding not to play on the lake.

Close to Wanaka was our favourite free camp in the South Island. Beside another lake, on the road towards Queenstown, it was a nice big and flat area. The stars that came out once night had fallen were something else though, there were even a few shooting ones.


The aim was to take the camper van to Milford Sound. So we camped at one of the DOC sites just out of the town of Te Anau, even though we heard the weather was meant to be bad.

The next morning we awoke to a light flurry of snow and wisely decided to head back to town, as we had no snow chains. We witnessed first hand why the roads get closed in these condiitons. Driving back in the snow, the car in front of us swerved off the road and landed in a hedge, before they were luckily rescued by a NZ truck driver who happened to be passing and towed back to safety.

With the weather clearing, we attempted another go at the Milford Sound the next day.  We got as far as the Mirror Lakes before the snow started falling again. Accepting that we weren’t going to make it up the valley, we watched the sunset in Te Anau and decided to leave the next morning.


It was a cool, snowy drive back up to Queenstown. After a long search we eventually found a free parking space in the streets on the hill in Queenstown and strolled in with guitars, just in case. We immediately began busking in between the rainfall and snow. There was another busker in Queenstown! We were so shocked after weeks of no competition.  A guitarist had set up by the lake, so we tried a bit in town. We busked with the incentive of buying two wooly hats (we had not packed for cold weather before coming here!) and enough to spend the night camping at Kinloch lodge, at the top end of Lake Wakatipu. This is the drive from Queenstown to Kinloch. Every corner you drive around in the New Zealand offers you another stunning view. It makes it difficult to concentrate on the road!

An unexpected gig came about in Queenstown. This is one of the interesting things about busking, you never know what is going to happen. This time, we also ended up doing a private gig at a holiday cottage for a group of friends had hired for the week. They asked us to play some tunes in their living room for one evening and even invited Tom to go and play golf with them the next day!

From Kinloch we did a day trek of the Routeburn Track. Unfortunately, (you guessed it) the top of the track was closed off because of the snowfall, so we went as far as we could up to the Mackenzie hut and retraced our steps.

The walking was celebrated with a Fergburger! As well as a sunset by the lake.

Overheard conversation:

“Woah, look at that view!”
“No, not now. I shall look at that in the morning.” – Posh lady


The drive over the high pass just outside of Queenstown takes you back towards Wanaka. From there, the plan was to head towards the west coast of the South Island. The camp near Wanaka was in a cricket ground, with FREE HOT SHOWERS. Once Wanaka is left behind, going east, the towns were few and far between. Instead, waterfalls, forests and many, many flies can be found! We mainly did some sightseeing in this section, including a walk to the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers, which are both retreating at ridiculous rates, compared to even a few years ago. It was the saddest part of the trip. The sun came out for a visit to Lake Matheson, definitely recommended. The reflections in the lake of Mt Cook are one of the coolest things we’ve seen.

Further up the coast is the town of Hokitika. On the map it was made to look quite big, so there was potential for busking. On arrival, it was empty and there was no great busking spot that we could see. They did have some Kiwis though, the bird kind. On the way back towards the west, we took Arthur’s Pass.


Akaroa is on an unexpected little peninsular, close to Christchurch. It was a beautiful place but we were dubious of coming here, as the places to stay didn’t seem cheap. We tried a busk in the town but it didn’t go that great. There were a few people around as it was ANZAC Day, so we played after all the ceremonies were over.


Kaikoura is further up the west coast above Christchurch. It was full of seals! There were so many on the beach when we woke up in the morning.

We also met another busking couple here, playing the banjo and drum, who said they were down to their last $2. Not very hopeful about our chances, we played a little but then the rain came, so instead we strolled around the peninsular, before preparing to head back to Christchurch and give back our beast of a camper van, after two awesome weeks. The whole time in New Zealand was amazing, busking our way from Auckland all the way to Queenstown. From New Zealand we made the plan for the next stage of our adventure and heading off to Sydney, to travel up the East Coast of Australia.