Thousands of locals and visitors have packed into Queenstown’s waterfront to celebrate the 39th Winter Festival’s opening in true Kiwi style.
The resort revelled in perfect weather – with plenty of snow on the ski slopes but none downtown – for an outdoor concert which kicked off at 5.30pm.
Local high school rockers The Fletcherz led by Sam Maxwell got things off to a blistering start finishing up with Nirvana classic Smells Like Teen Spirit and Jet’s Cold Hard Bitch.
Maxwell’s stoked older brother Tom – taking time out from studies in Dunedin to visit for festival – watched on from in front of the stage: “I’m pretty proud of him, the boys did pretty well.”
Fellow Queenstown singers Emily Burns and Max Gunn also performed before Holly Arrowsmith – the winner of last year’s Queenstown originals contest Songstars – delivered a quality original number.
This year’s Songstars’ top three – Alex Fraser, Tori Read and winner Sam Maxwell – also performed their originals.
Then it was time for headline act and Kiwi music royalty Dave Dobbyn to take to the stage for a singalong rendition of his classic hit Slice of Heaven.
Dobbyn was joined onstage by a choir of 20 local primary kids from Queenstown and Remarkables primaries, Arrowtown, KingsView and St Joseph’s schools before a fireworks display declared festival open.
Queenstown mayor Vanessa Van Uden welcomed the thousands packed into Earnslaw Park.
“What a wonderful job those kids just did – you’re just incredible guys. I hope everyone has a fantastic time, both locals and visitors.
“What a brilliant night for it.”
Dobbyn then performed a full set of his extensive hitlist, finishing up with Be Mine Tonight – but returned for an encore, performing a rousing version of Loyal.
Among the revellers was Thriller in the Chiller fighter Henry ‘Hand Grenade’ Youngman who said the fireworks and Dobbyn were epic and but he was heading home soon.
Youngman is one of 20 charity boxers fighting in next Saturday’s festival’s fight night at the Events Centre.
“I’m pretty much staying away from the mulled wine and staying away from the snow powder up the hill too – we’re not really allowed.”
MC and visiting comedian Urzila Carlson – returning after performing at last year’s festival – told the crowd as a foreigner Queenstown’s just amazing to visit: “I swear every year it gets prettier.”
Festival manager Lisa Buckingham says she’s “over the moon” with how well opening night has gone.
“It couldn’t have gone better and the turnout was great. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the beginning of New Zealand’s ‘ten coolest days’. Winter really does start here.”
Tomorrow sees the Frontrunner Golden Mile race around Queenstown streets start about noon just before family favourite the American Express Festival Street Parade.