Touring in New Zealand

The Folk Musician's Rough Guide.

NZ has a population of 4 million people - about 1 million of those live in Auckland (near the top), 400,000 in Wellington (the Capital), 300,000 in Christchurch and 130,000 in Dunedin (both in the South Island). The rest is spread over smaller cities, towns and rural areas.

Map of New Zealand. Click for larger image

NZ is a longish, skinny country of two main islands (called, with stunning originality, The North Island and The South Island) separated by a narrow but expensive-to-cross bit of water (Cook Strait). State Highway 1 extends from Bluff in the extreme south to Cape Reinga at the northern tip and runs through all the major cities. There's a good day's travel (by car) between each of the main cities Auckland - Wellington - Christchurch - Dunedin (North to South). It takes about three hours to cross Cook Strait by ferry, but allow an additional couple of hours in your schedule for queuing and boarding. You can find out more by clicking on the Interisland Ferry Tickets link.

July/August is the middle of winter, January/February is the height of summer.

Australia is the closest country to New Zealand - but there is no bridge.

Folk Clubs

Folk clubs in NZ (listed here) are usually low-key, semi-formal (protocol varies slightly from club to club) and highly social. Some meet in pubs and cafes, some use the local community hall and a few have their own clubrooms. One or two meet in someone's home. Clubs are usually incorporated, non-profit societies run by enthusiastic volunteers.

Folk Concerts

A club (or other promoter) may feature an artist in a formal concert venue or as part of a club-night (which could be in a pub, café or community hall). The artist should specify what's best for her/him but should also take into account that the local folkies know their own turf best, what works and what doesn't.

Folk Festivals

Most of the larger clubs (and some small ones) run their own folk festivals (listed here) - usually on a long weekend such as Easter or Labour Weekend (October). In general folk festivals here are small and friendly. The artist is usually expected to stay on site (not in a hotel or motel) and be part of the festival for its duration. Guests are always well looked after.

Artist Tours

Many artists do tour the NZ folk circuit. However co-ordination can be a bit of a trick. Most overseas (outside of NZ) artists that tour successfully are guested at one festival and tour the country before or after this. Some may choose to do only the North Island. There are promoters; the links at the left will take you to NoteAble and Flying Piglets, two of the main ones for this genre. These and the NZAcoustic Artist site will give you a good idea of who's touring already.

Will We Like Your Music?

Is it any good? The folk scene has some of the most discerning listeners and also the most appreciative. One of the things I love about my own local folk club is that beginner players and performers are liberally mixed with the hardened professionals and all the ranges in between: not just severally but often playing together. It would be a mistake to think we are ignorant of, or starved of international folk music; so don't make out you're an authority unless you are. There have been cases of mediocre performers coming through acting like God's gift only to be severely shown up by the local support act.

Money, Fees, Koha, CD's

The New Zealand dollar will look a bit pathetic compared to the US dollar, even more so to the Euro and hugely so to the British pound. As a rule of thumb NZ$1 is approximately 66c US, 50c Euro and 33p British. So you're not going to earn big bucks to take back home. It is worth noting though, that NZ$100 buys pretty much here what £100 buys in England or €100 buys in Holland or Ireland. In my experience a good cappuccino costs around three "spending units" wherever you are.

What can you charge for a performance fee? Clubs and venues will tell you honestly what they can afford. Some payment scenarios are: guaranteed fee, minimum fee and a percentage of the door-take, door-take after expenses. In general I recommend that clubs - and artists - negotiate a guaranteed fee. This protects the artist against a badly organised concert and puts the risk, therefore the incentive, with the club or venue-owner who know their public, sometimes have club funds or grants to back the venture and can set an affordable ticket price.

It's possible someone may ask you to do a performance for "koha", a Maori term meaning a gift, usually of money, amount unspecified. This from

"Koha is a gift from the heart.

Traditionally koha were in the form of precious materials - pounamu (NZ jade), whale bone etc, korowai (cloaks) and numerous other taonga (treasures). Delicacies were also gifted.

In today's society money is the normal form of koha. If the givers are the ones to decide how much to give and the receivers do not have any control, authority or influence over the decision, this is koha."

It might be $30 or it might be $200; you say thank you, put it in your pocket and don't count it. It's worth remembering too, that any night you're playing is a night you're probably not paying for food and accommodation. Accommodation is usually in the homes of the nice people who are working very hard to organise your concert.

We folkies expect to pay between $10 and $20 for a folk concert ticket (unless you're Richard Thompson or The Chieftains) and $20 - $30 for your CD.

In short, if you regard your tour here as an opportunity to see around our beautiful country, meet some very nice folk and cover your expenses, you've got it about right. If you expect to cover what you might otherwise earn at home, forget it.

Where Do I Plug In?

It's not too many years ago that a well-known international artist performed at a small community hall in rural New Zealand with a microphone taped to a broomstick. I think I can safely say these days are gone. Venues will have a PA system unless they specify otherwise. Some clubs like the New Edinburgh Folk Club in Dunedin and Devonport in Auckland have tiny venues that pride themselves in being totally acoustic - the same might apply to house concerts, so be prepared to play unplugged. In general, venues and clubs are becoming increasingly more sophisticated with good sound gear and operators so you can expect a professional job in most cases, but there will be times when gear is cobbled together from around the community. Specify how many mics and DI's you need, but if you want "a Beta 87a for the dulcimer," you'd better bring it yourself.

The electrical system is 230 Volts, 50 hertz, phase-neutral-earth (three pin) same as Australia. Wall-warts (AC plug-packs) that cater for a range of DC voltages and plug configurations are available quite cheaply from Dick Smith shops (our equivalent of Radio Shack)


We have McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and Starbucks. Yes we do. A Big Mac has beetroot in it, that's about the only difference. We also have places that sell food.

General Stuff

Look forward to seeing you.

Mike Moroney
January 2005.

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