The Queen­stown Win­ter Fes­ti­val cel­e­brates the start of win­ter like only Queen­stown can, with street par­ties, mu­sic, com­edy, fam­ily fun and mad­ness up the moun­tain

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Par­ties, mu­sic, com­edy, fam­ily fun and moun­tain mad­ness

The win­ter sea­son in Queen­stown is syn­ony­mous to those in the know with buzz and en­ergy. The buzz is no more keenly felt than in the weeks lead­ing up to the re­gion’s ski field’s tan­ta­liz­ing an­nounce­ments of open­ing dates as the sur­round­ing moun­tains get their first coats of ic­ing sugar like snow. lo­cals pull their snow gear out from stor­age, snow lovers from ev­ery­where com­pul­sively fol­low snow re­ports and the ‘will it be the best sea­son ever’ con­ver­sa­tions in lo­cal cafes tease ev­ery­one into a state of an­tic­i­pa­tion. Mean­while a team of lo­cals and vol­un­teers work like santa’s elves, ig­nor­ing the call of the an­nual rit­u­als to put the fi­nal touches on Queen­stown’s an­nual start of win­ter cel­e­bra­tion, the Queen­stown Win­ter Fes­ti­val. since 1975 the Fes­ti­val has been the kooky, cool and crazy pres­sure valve that re­leases the build-up and lets the world know that ‘win­ter starts here, so come on down and join the party’. The Queen­stown Win­ter Fes­ti­val is New Zealand's - and some sug­gest the south­ern hemi­sphere’s - big­gest cel­e­bra­tion of win­ter. Held over four days in late June, more than 45,000 peo­ple con­verge on Queen­stown at venues from the lake shore to the moun­tain tops. Noth­ing is too crazy and no su­perla­tives are left untested. The Fes­ti­val puts up its mar­quee over a broad col­lec­tion of events that in­clude live mu­sic, com­pet­i­tive moun­tain ex­ploits, com­edy, fire­works, culi­nary cre­ative­ness, and po­lar lake plung­ing.

While the Fes­ti­val to­day is marked on cal­en­dars glob­ally, four decades ago its be­gin­nings were far more low key. In 1975 a cou­ple of Kiwi blokes were sip­ping a beer in Eichardt’s pub and de­cided the small town of just 5,000 res­i­dents should throw a bit of a party for the lo­cals and skiers. A com­mit­tee of keen tourism op­er­a­tors and the whole town got be­hind the idea, com­ing up with en­ter­tain­ment and events. It was a real team ef­fort and the ideas couldn’t have been wack­ier, but the lo­cals em­braced it and the Queen­stown Win­ter Fes­ti­val was born. It was orig­i­nally just a win­ter car­ni­val and a chance for the lo­cals to have some fun in win­ter when the town was qui­eter. Back then se­ri­ous snow didn’t ar­rive un­til late July/early Au­gust and this was the dis­tant time be­fore snow­mak­ing (in­tro­duced in 1991) brought the ski sea­son for­ward to early July, then June. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s Queen­stown was a small vil­lage and op­er­a­tors would have come through April, May and June on very lean busi­ness. Jet­boat and raft­ing com­pa­nies were off the wa­ter and many mo­tels closed for that off-sea­son. Some of the early events are now stuff of leg­end. A hand­ful of those orig­i­nal events, like the Dog Derby and Day on the Bay with its hi­lar­i­ous Bird­man Con­test, are now en­dur­ing Fes­ti­val favourites. In par­tic­u­lar, the Dog Derby is loved by fes­ti­val lovers na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. It’s an in­fa­mous day out for high coun­try farm­ers and their nor­mally obe­di­ent work­ing dogs which in more re­cent years has al­lowed ‘ town­ies’ and their ca­nine bud­dies to join in. Each num­bered, bib-clad pair must run, slip or slide their way to the bot­tom of Coronet Peak through the chaos of whis­tles and bark­ing, cross­ing the fin­ish line to­gether. Over the years, the Fes­ti­val has been a zeit­geist in­di­ca­tor. Faces and fash­ions, politi­cians and celebs have all been pulled into the event’s or­bit. Snow Queens and Top Blokes have been crowned in the past and rock roy­alty usu­ally join politi­cians to open the Fes­ti­val. It’s not un­usual to have had Prime Min­is­ters such as Sir Rob Mul­doon, He­len Clark, or Sir John Key shar­ing the stage with Shi­had, The Ex­po­nents, Dave Dob­byn, or Aussie rocker Jimmy Barnes.

The Fes­ti­val’s Fri­day night is al­ways mem­o­rable for the live mu­sic and fire­works. In more re­cent years the Fes­ti­val’s com­edy pro­gramme has seen those at the top of their game, in­clud­ing the Flight of the con­chords, Dai Hen­wood, Brend­han love­grove, Jeremy cor­bett, paul ego, Urzila carl­son and Ben Hur­ley, en­ter­tain sell-out au­di­ences.

By 1993 trans-Tas­man win­ter flights were bring­ing aus­tralian vis­i­tors di­rect to Queen­stown as snow­mak­ing guar­an­teed a longer, more con­sis­tent sea­son. In 1997, fes­ti­val or­gan­is­ers took a punt bring­ing the dates for­ward to late June to po­si­tion the fes­ti­val at a time that it would sig­nal that win­ter was open for busi­ness in Queen­stown and at a time the town wasn’t al­ready full. The ob­jec­tive be­ing to help ex­tend the sea­son and use the Fes­ti­val as a pow­er­ful pro­mo­tional tool.

Me­dia cov­er­age and celebri­ties at­tend­ing the an­nual fes­ti­val mean that no mat­ter where you are in New Zealand in late June, you can­not es­cape that there is some­thing ma­jor hap­pen­ing in Queen­stown.

The 2017 Queen­stown Win­ter Fes­ti­val swings into ac­tion 22-25 June, a high-en­ergy four-day for­mat Fes­ti­val with all that lo­cals and sev­eral thou­sand vis­i­tors have come to ex­pect - and a few sur­prises.

The new Queen­stown Win­ter Fes­ti­val Wel­come on Thurs­day 22 June will be a spe­cial blend of Maori cul­ture and con­tem­po­rary en­ter­tain­ment. an­other new for 2017 is the Real Jour­neys Thank You cruise where 90 of the re­gion’s un­sung heroes will be recog­nised and en­joy the Real Jour­neys Fri­day Night party & Fire­works from the Tss earnslaw. a high­light of the ex­tended day­long auck­land air­port car­ni­val will be the new com­mu­nity Night Walk­ing pa­rade. also added to the mix is a new après ski Bar & Din­ing pro­gramme. There’s some­thing for all pal­ettes from an ex­clu­sive chef’s menu din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence through to a cock­tail and night Bungy combo and a rib eat­ing con­test. Quirky and fun el­e­ments also fea­ture with iHeartRa­dio Day on the Bay’s The Hits Bird­man, JUcY Undy 500 and Mitre 10 Mega Raft Race bring­ing out the crazy in the lo­cals.

The ros­ter of live lo­cal and New Zealand mu­sic across the four days is as good as ever with anika Moa, phoenix Foun­da­tion, No­mad, Brent­wood, The sham­bles and many other tal­ented per­form­ers. com­edy Night sold out within hours so an­other night of hi­lar­ity was added. also re­turn­ing is the Queen­stown Vil­lage Ice Rink, the sold out sKYcITY Ball and many other fabulous events.

The Fes­ti­val is a re­flec­tion on what makes Queen­stown and its peo­ple so great. It’s our Fes­ti­val and you’re in­vited. so snap up the last tick­ets, en­ter some of the events, or cheer from the side lines. see you out there.

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