On song: Queenstown's Emily Burns is one of eight South Island jazz musos performing at Yonder on Saturday night


While most of us were hunkering down during lockdown, one Queenstown native was floating about in the Bahamas.

But it was no holiday.

Born and raised in the Wakatipu, for the past four years Emily Burns has been living and performing on cruise ships sailing across the world.

Singing everything from rock operas to soul, Burns’ career has taken her from the British Isles to Alaska, and everywhere in between.

But when Covid-19 began to rapidly spread across the world in March, working a cruise around the Panama Canal meant Burns wouldn’t be heading home in a hurry.

Subsequently she spent the next two months living on the ship with fellow crew in and around the Bahamas.

With the pandemic moving like wildfire, the cruise liner needed to wait and see where it could safely dock and have its crew return to their respective homes.

“We ended up floating around the Bahamas for two months, waiting to see how we were going to be able to get home,” Burns says.

“Luckily there was a great community on the ship I was working on.

“We all just kind of stuck together and were there for each other, because it’s hard, you miss your family at times like that, especially when you just want to be home.

“Thank goodness for the internet and being able to contact friends and family, that definitely got me through.”

Days were spent reading and singing, and fortunately social distancing restrictions didn’t tighten towards the end.

“The company really looked after us, they really did.

“They kept us in the loop with everything that was happening all the time.”

Eventually the boat was able to sail to Amsterdam and Burns boarded a plane for New Zealand.

She arrived back in Queenstown in time for Alert Level 2.

“It was bizarre — I think everyone in the world was kind of living in extreme circumstances really.

“But it was also strange because I kind of missed everything that happened here.”

Burns is making Queenstown home again for the foreseeable future and is keeping busy with music teaching.

But a change of lifestyle hasn’t come without its grief period.

“We had all these plans to go to Hawaii and Mexico and perform our shows together again.

“And it’s really sad that we are not sure we will get the chance to work together again.”

But she’s enjoying being part of the music community in the resort again — last month she performed a sold-out show at Gantley’s Pub & Cafe with local legend Mark Wilson.

“It’s been amazing, there are so many talented people in this town and I’ve been really enjoying connecting with fellow Kiwis and working on material that I’m passionate about.

“There’s always so much going on in Queenstown and I love that.”

Next month she’s joining a 23-stop nationwide tour of performers who’ve returned to NZ from careers on Broadway and the West End — The Shows Must Go On, The Best of Broadway comes to the Queenstown Memorial Centre on October 5.

“I feel incredibly lucky to be able to share the stage with them.”

Meantime, she’s set to perform at Yonder this weekend alongside eight of the South Island’s best jazz musicians.

The gig will celebrate music from the Golden Age of Hollywood and feature songs from performers like Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe.

“I just feel so lucky that I’m able to still be performing and working as a singer.

“It’s an exciting time for creative people in NZ for sure.”