Winter Fest buzz builds in Queenstown

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Buzz is builing in Queenstown ahead of Winter Festival’s kick-off.

The signs are everywhere – an ice carving, screaming ‘Queenstown 2013: Winter starts here’ is being fashioned at the top of The Mall, whilst a temporary stage hosting tomorrow night’s free Dave Dobbyn opening concert has been installed at Earnslaw Park.

Another large temporary installation is a downtown ice rink, constructed specifically for festival.

The 16-metre by 16m rink at the Village Green has been under construction for the past week and is open for use from 10am tomorrow throughout festival – the first American Express members with photo ID each day get to skate for free.

Stars on Ice owner Peter Lynch, the man behind the rink, says the most challenging part of constructing it at the Village Green is putting it across Horne Creek without impeding the water flow underneath.

They use about 12,500 litres of water to create the layer of frozen ice which ends up being about 40cm thick.

Hush Spa and Heaven in the Mountaineer building are celebrating festival and winter with a unique window display of local scenes featuring Barbie dolls.

The nine different scenes depict attractions like the local cycle trail, Steamer Wharf near Queenstown Bay, tourism icon Shotover Jet, and Queenstown’s world famous fast-food outlet Fergburger.

Detail included everything from grass on the cycle track to sesame seeds on the Fergburger. Jan Butson put in endless hours into creating the display – she even knitted clothes for the Barbie’s.

Hush Spa’s Jenny Hodgson says: “We will have [the display] up for the whole three months of winter.”

Hodgson says she’s looking forward to Thriller in the Chiller next week, especially since staff member Sarah ‘Stormborn’ Bergin is competing – Bergin’s fighting rival spa staffer Megan ‘Mayhem’ Matthews, a massage therapist at Body Sanctum.

Tempering the excitement of festival build up is some council warnings to drivers to be prepared for snow – with temperatures expected to plummet.

Queenstown Lakes District Council transport manager Denis Mander says people should be equipped with snow chains – and drive to the conditions.

“There’s snow forecast over the next few days and it’s a good idea to make sure we’re not just prepared to keep ourselves warm on a cold night but that we have the gear we need to keep moving should weather conditions change,” he said earlier this week.

Mander says drivers need to be alert for pedestrians, in particular children: “It’s easy for kids to get swept up in the excitement and lose their traffic sense.”

Extra traffic management will help people cross the road on Stanley Street, while keeping traffic moving.

Mander also advises people consider carpooling because traffic is likely to be congested with large numbers expected in the town centre on opening night tomorrow.

The opening party, featuring Wakatipu rock band The Fletcherz and Kiwi legend Dave Dobbyn plus fireworks will be at Earnslaw Park from 5.30pm.

Dobbyn will be joined by a choir of 20 primary school kids before the fireworks 7pm and he’ll then do a full set.

Festival’s first event is at noon, tomorrow, up Skyline Gondola – it’s a long lunch but with a serious topic up for discussion.

A foursome of panellists will be musing on the appeal of the Wakatipu as a business tourism destination – panellists include Christchurch Airport boss Jim Boult and Queenstown council chief executive Adam Feeley, the former head of the Serious Fraud Office.

Queenstown’s silver-tongued David Kennedy – Ngai Tahu Tourism’s southern region manager – is MC.

Tickets are still available for the lunch and include the return gondola journey – they’re $40 plus GST and available from the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce by emailing events@queenstownchamber.org.nz.

For more festival information go to Winter Festival’s website