Life on the road with the Gypsy Fair

Gavin MacKenzie says the Gypsy Fair life isn't about money -  it's travelling meeting people and simply doing what you love.
Katrina Tikey

Gavin MacKenzie says the Gypsy Fair life isn't about money - it's travelling meeting people and simply doing what you love.

Imagine travelling and getting paid to do so - wouldn't that be 'living the dream'?

Well, that's the life of the gypsies travelling with The Original Gypsy Fair.

For nine months of the year, members of the Gypsy Fair travel from town to town selling their wares. They arrive at a set destination on or before Friday to set up stalls for the weekend. The rest of the week they can do as they please as they make their way to their next port of call.

Fork Art for sale at the Gypsy Fair.
Katrina Tikey

Fork Art for sale at the Gypsy Fair.

The Gypsy Fair originally began back in 1991 when Jill and Rob Romain, an English couple, arranged an opportunity for traders in their handcrafted house-trucks and house-buses to get together to sell their wares and display their extraordinary homes. They started with 10 house-trailers taking part in a 10-week tour of the North Island and it's progressed from there.

Since 2001, Jim "Chappie" Banks has kept the fair running smoothly. Banks joined the Gypsy Fair in 1993. He and his wife Venus ran the hot chips and burger bar. Nowadays, they no longer travel with the fair but instead take care of the logistics required to keep the fair going.

It's not simply a matter of turning up at a town and setting up. There's council by-laws to abide by, venues to find which are suitable to host the event, promoting and advertising, arranging where stalls are placed, collecting rent, meeting new people keen to come on board plus many other aspects needed to keep this iconic fair running smoothly.

At each venue Gavin Mackenzie takes charge of where the caravans are parked and how the stalls are positioned. Mackenzie has been travelling with The Gypsy Fair since 1995. 'I started in 1995 at Orewa, in an Isuzu Elf "cabover" camper.... what was meant to be a one off market for me is now 22 seasons and 633 fairs in the past.'

Mackenzie exchanged life as a sergeant in the Royal New Zealand Air Force for life on the road. This enchanting lifestyle obviously suits Mackenzie, he's happy-go-lucky, self-effacing and care-free.

'What you earn in the weekend lets you enjoy yourself during the week'. It isn't about chasing the money – it's about travelling, exploring new towns, discovering places along the way, meeting people and simply doing what you love.

Last weekend the fair held their 23rd event for the 2016 – 2017 season at the Richmond showgrounds. This season there are 23 different stalls selling an exclusive range of handcrafted products and entertainment.

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Some of the stores include; a shooting range, tattooing, glass blowing, freshly brewed coffee, an inflatable obstacle course, body piercing, soaps and oils, incense and enchanting handcrafted flowers, embroidery, fork art, hand made jewellery, wood craft, Segway rides, tye-dye creations, hot chips & burgers, candy floss and sweets, children's clothing, wind chimes, funky boho chic clothing, lead light creations, bubble toys and juggling supplies, hair braiding, hair extension and hair accessories, sea shells and all this is accompanied by Karloss' musical talents performed on his captivating handcrafted stage.

Magical and masterful Karloss has been living a nomadic life since he was 15 years old. Initially he started off in circuses working with horses and then began entertaining with music in his 20s. This free-spirited man has travelled for many years with this colourful entourage in what is perhaps New Zealand's largest fleet of privately owned heritage buses and wagons.

Part of the convoy is a distinctive, hand-painted campervan owned by Sean Woods. It's his second season as a gypsy.

"There are three things that make this way of life a success. One, you have to be passionate about what you sell. Two, you have to enjoy travelling. And last but not least, you've got to enjoy people".

Recently, Louise Wilkins left a corporate world in busy Sydney to join her partner Sean on the road. Leaving behind a hectic working life to begin a carefree life on the road. Louise happily said 'I wouldn't have it any other way'. Sean and Louise make and sell tie-dyed clothing.

Another couple, Ross and Robyn Simpson, are enjoying their first season. They travel in their Isuzu bus with two dogs and two cats. Ross operates an inflatable obstacle course, while Robyn runs a coffee caravan. What a great way to make a living doing the things you enjoy while seeing the country.

To join the fair you need a skill, trade or product that's unique (ideally handmade) and one that won't compete with others. Having a range of merchandise guarantees a variety of goods and assures an equal opportunity to make sales. The Gypsy Fair pride themselves on their craftsmanship. If its imported goods you're after, you won't find many at this event.

At the end of day, after the crowds dwindle away, the Village Green is the place where the gypsies socialise.

"It's neutral turf and there's no exclusion". While staying in Nelson the gypsies enjoyed a champaign breakfast in the Village Green as a birthday celebration. Next up is "homemade dessert" night.

Although members of the fair spend each weekend together, they don't live in each other's pockets. Just like an extensive, caring and supportive family they go their separate way during the week.

If you're interested in touring with the Gypsy Fair you can contact Gavin Mackenzie via their Facebook Group page 'The Original Gypsy Fair'. Or, email:

 - Stuff


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