Believe it or not, it's a crowded market when buskers come to town: contortionists and acrobats, hula-hoopers and jugglers - possibly even hula-hooping while juggling - clowns and mimes, dancers and unicycle-riding musicians, magicians and tricksters.

So, when Sara Twister decided to join the ranks of street performers, she aimed for a point of difference. Inspiration came in the form of a YouTube video where archery was used in an act. It took her back to her childhood when, with friends, she made bows and arrows and roamed neighbourhoods playing games with now politically incorrect names.

Fast-forward three years since seeing that YouTube clip and Twister is quite possibly the world's only professional contortionist, who balances on her arms and fires a bow - with her feet!

Armed with a specially made bow - crafted by her partner, special effects props maker and fellow busker Sam Prest - the acrobatic archer and trained contortionist (she studied in Brazil and Germany) developed her act at home before taking it to the streets.

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That first show didn't go so well. Twister says the arrow she fired hit an audience volunteer in the arm - it's okay, the point is encased in a suction cup - and while she sat embarrassed and nervous about how he would react, the volunteer was a true gentleman.

He returned the arrow to Twister and told her to try again. Second time around she didn't miss and has since become a hit with audiences around the world.

This weekend, Twister is in Auckland along with a whole melange of street performers concocting a heady brew of eye-popping and free entertainment to complement the vast array of Auckland Anniversary attractions which make our city a truly magical place to be.

Suggestions of what to do and see? As Twister might say, ready, aim and fire:

SATURDAY

Start the weekend by taking to any of the Auckland International Buskers Festival venues: SkyCity, Te Wero Island, the Viaduct's Market Square or the Eastern Viaduct, Princes or Queens Wharf. Performers start at midday; we'll probably head first to Queen's Wharf to watch Australia's Dr Air-in-Bubble who promises to create an "almighty bubble eclipse that flies over, around and through the audience". While we're there, we'll wander down to see Michael Parekowhai's stunning The Lighthouse and peer in through the windows to wonder what Captain Cook might make of it all.

Contortionist/archer Sara Twister. Photo / Kalena Leo
Contortionist/archer Sara Twister. Photo / Kalena Leo

Today's also the day that the now annual, and in its third year, Tamaki Herenga Waka Festival begins. It offers three days of traditional and contemporary Maori cultural events, including live music, kapa haka groups, time-honoured healing, kids' games and activities, temporary moko (tattooing), workshops, talks and storytelling. But the most popular thing on offer? Waka sailings. These experiences book out fast so you'll need to be in quick. But there's the chance to do the following:

• Waka hourua (double-hulled sailing waka) experiences on the harbour. Open to anyone over the age of 5 (children under 8 must each be accompanied by an adult), $10 per adult and $5 per child.

• The Have-a-Go waka tangata experiences - try paddling a waka (there's a brief on-land training and safety drill first), open to everyone over the age of 8. These are free, but time slot bookings are required.

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• Waka taua experiences - open only to men over the age of 15, a restriction to respect waka tikanga - rules around waka that have been in place for many generations and are still observed today. A koha is appreciated for these.

Waka paddling registrations (waka tangata and waka taua) are available in Karanga Plaza, between the ANZ Viaduct Events Centre and the tidal steps, while waka hourua sailing tickets can be purchased at the festival information stand.

There are parades, with commentary about waka history and culture, throughout the festival's three days but remember all waka activity is subject to capacity and weather conditions.

While at that end of town, check out more from the buskers' festival. Perhaps Witty Look, who are Daiki, a Guinness World Record holder and former unicycle world champion, and the acrobat clown and art director Cheeky who use all their skills to create a cartoon world. Stroll down to Queen's Wharf to see Canadian champion of magic Nathaniel Rankin, whose show includes magic, circus, comedy and mind reading and has been performed in 35 countries across five continents.

Later that evening, at Market Square in the Viaduct Basin, all 10 acts take part in a grand night showcase featuring local heroes Fraser Hooper, an award-winning clown, and Pablo the Puzzle, whose eye-popping circus skills will leave you wondering "how does he do that? Night shows are held Saturday and Sunday.

The day will end with watching our beloved harbour bridge turned into art through music and solar-powered lights. The bridge will be lit with 90,000 LED lights and 200 floodlights for the launch of Vector Lights, a six-minute specially composed opening show, which heralds a new era for the 58-year-old coathanger bridge. The solar energy-powered show - which references Tama-Nui te Ra (the sun), Hikohiko (electrical energy), and Hei te Ao Marama (the future world of light) - will start at 9pm and repeat every half hour until midnight, with an ambient light display in between.

Pablo the Puzzle.
Pablo the Puzzle.

SUNDAY

Once again, we're spoiled for choice. Music lovers might head to the Kumeu Showgrounds for the 45th Auckland Folk Festival, a family-friendly event showcasing local and international performers in concerts, dances and workshops.

If the weather remains hotand sticky, Silo Park's inaugural Ice Cream Sundae market will be the place to hang out. Auckland's best-loved icecream makers will be there, offering a range of sweet scoops and icy delights.

Head to Captain Cook Wharf where the red fence will be no barrier to exploring our port. SeePort includes a welter of bus and boat tours, games and rides, demonstrations and the chance to tour the Royal NZ Navy's HMNZS Wellington. Sunday's events end with a 6pm performance by the Auckland Symphony Orchestra, which finishes with a brilliant birthday fireworks display.

MONDAY

The Auckland Anniversary Day Regatta is known as the biggest one-day regatta in the world and one of the oldest sporting events on the calendar (its 1840 launch predates the first America's Cup sailing by 11 years). Tall ships, gaff riggers, sloops, racing keelers, multi-hulls, sailing dinghies, radio-controlled boats, waka ama, classic yachts and even vintage tugboats - they'll all be out on the Waitemata Harbour and racing. There are vantage points all over Auckland where you can spy the boats and share in the maritime history, which has powered our region since the first waka arrived.

Best way to finish the weekend? Go to SkyCity to catch a 4pm performance from Snap Boogie, whose high-energy routines have taken him for America's Got Talent all around the world. Finish with an early dinner at one of the Federal St eateries or maybe fish 'n' chips on a beach.

When and where

International Buskers Festival

Waterfront venues and SkyCity until Monday. Daily performances from noon. aucklandbuskersfestival.co.nz

Tamaki Herenga Waka Festival

Viaduct Events Centre and
Viaduct Harbour until Monday.
aucklandnz.com/tamaki-herenga-waka-festival

Vector Lights

Auckland Harbour Bridge, various
vantage points.
Tonight from 9pm, every half hour until midnight. vector.co.nz

45th Auckland Folk Festival

Kumeu Showgrounds, today and tomorrow.
aucklandfolkfestival.co.nz

Ice Cream Sundae — Summer at Silo Park

Silo Park, tomorrow, noon-6pm.
silopark.co.nz

SeePort

Captain Cook and Marsden wharves
until Monday. seeport.co.nz

Auckland Anniversary Day Regatta

Waitemata and Viaduct harbours,
Monday, 9am-5pm. regatta.org.nz