For the next week, Tauranga will become a hub for the arts, hosting a diverse range of local and international acts as part of its annual festival.

Based at Baycourt, in the centre of the city, the festival has gone from strength to strength.

"The first festival was in 1999 and it was a reasonably small affair with a Spiegeltent on the lawn at Baycourt as we have today," festival director Jo Bond said.

"I think the festival has grown in statue with attracting international performers and I think the quality of New Zealand performance has also improved with the development of lots of theatre companies and more artists working in that contemporary sphere."

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More than half a million people have been to the festival since it began and it's seen some big names too.

"In 2003 we had the Flight of the Conchords. They had just been in Edinburgh, so they'd done their first season in Edinburgh and we'd booked them prior to that, so it is a launching pad for lots of performers to go on internationally."

Bond says the festival's mission statement is to bring world class arts to the regions.

"This year we've got Limbo which is an international circus, cabaret show. We're very delighted to have got that across the line. They tour internationally, they don't normally come to regional festivals."

One of the stars of Limbo is New Yorker Heather Holliday, who as a teenager held the auspicious title of being the Youngest Female Sword Swallower in the world.

"It was the most dangerous thing in the side show so naturally I was drawn to it," Holliday says. "I thought it was going to be just a fun summer job when I was in high school and then it just kept snowballing. I got more gigs, and more gigs and here I am.

"I've been to a few places in New Zealand and so far it's the complete opposite of New York City that I've ever seen, so that's exciting even in rainy weather."

And she has some strong advice for any other teenagers looking to follow in her path.

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"Stay in school!"

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