New Zealand is famous for its natural landscape and memorable views which makes it a top spot for travelers. Tucked in the country is Queenstown, a resort town that is, without doubt, one of the best destinations that New Zealand can offer.

Located in the beautiful South Island of New Zealand, Queenstown is filled with plenty of activities and is often referred to as the adventure capital of New Zealand thanks to its abundance of extreme activities like bungee jumping.

At the start of winter season, the annual Queenstown Winter Festival is held in the town for over 10 days. The festival contains entertainment for all ages such as onstage musicals to unique competitions like suitcase races.

No matter your background, there is always something for you to enjoy at the Winter Festival!

In this post, we’ll be covering the festival with details and tips for tourists.

What is the Queenstown Winter Festival?

queenstown winter festival new zealand

Every year, plenty of New Zealanders and tourists flock to the town to celebrate a 10-day long festival in Queenstown.

The origins of the festival is bizarre yet memorable; it started off in 1975 as an excuse for a party. Today, the Queenstown Winter Festival is marching strong on its way to its 42nd year of running.

The festival is also regarded as the largest winter party in the region with over 50,000 visitors on average. This in comparison is much greater than Queenstown’s population of just over 13,000 residents.

Originally, the festival was filled with activities such as small-time concerts and beverages for kids and adults. Word of mouth spread among locals and the festival grew every year till today, where there are easily over 100 activities for attendees to take part in.

The festival is kicked off on a Friday with a dazzling display of fireworks. This signifies the start of the celebration which is followed by ten days of interesting and fun-filled events.

Thanks to the wide array of activities, anyone can find something to enjoy in the festival. To make things even sweeter, most of the activities during the festival are completely free!

The events calendar for the festival varies from year to year, but you can expect mainstays like a dance ball, colourful parades, performances from local and international artists, as well as a boat load of fun competitions such as suitcase racing.

Things to do during the festival

Monteith’s Dog Derby

Being one of the longest-running events on the festival calendar, this wacky competition pits dog owners and their sidekick in a race that weaves through local apartments to the snowy mountains of Queenstown and finally to the finish line.

The rules are simple: the first dog and partner to cross the finish line wins. It is a highlight for tourists thanks to memorable (and adorable!) moments from dog owners and their four-legged buddies.

The Auckland Airport Suitcase Race

Another popular event in the festival is the equally hilarious and absurd suitcase race which is exactly what it sounds like. In this event, participants use a suitcase as their vehicle to claim their title as the best suitcase racer in town.

Don’t think for a second that this race is a casual one; suitcase modifications and unfair adjustments are strictly prohibited from the race to ensure that everyone is playing on the fair ground.

Again, the rules are simple: the first one down the slope wins!

Display of fireworks

The most anticipated event of the festival is the fireworks display. Music is played all-night at Earnslaw Park before a massive firework display is released over the sky of Queenstown.

Around the location of the fireworks itself is a huge collection of local street food and collectibles for you to purchase to remember the night.

The Undy 500

The Undy 500 (a play on the popular Indy 500 race) is another race in the festival but instead of dogs and suitcases, participants compete in their underwear while challenging the freezing temperatures of winter for community glory.

Frankly speaking, all of the races mentioned above sound crazy but that’s what makes the Winter Festival so unique–you can’t experience these activities anywhere else in the world.

Tips for first-time Winter Festival goers

Make sure that you wear warm clothing

The temperatures in Queenstown hover around single digits during the day; at night, be prepared to experience below zero temperatures. If you’re going out at night, double up on warm clothing especially if you have kids with you.

To keep warm, make sure to stay close to food vendors around the festival. Warm food like stews or hotdogs can keep your body warm when it’s too cold outside; mulled wine is also an excellent choice to combat cold weather.

Plan ahead for exclusive events at the festival

Most events in the festival are free but some like the comedy shows are ticketed due to high demand. As these particular events are extremely popular, it’s wise to get your tickets before you head over to the festival.

Some ways to get tickets for exclusive events for the festival is by:

  • Purchasing event tickets on the official Queenstown Winter Festival website
  • Heading over to an authorised ticketing booth for the events

Keep your funny bone during the festival

There is never a stale event in the Queenstown Winter Festival.

From the descriptions of the race events above, you can tell that Queenstown locals do not take themselves too seriously and neither should you.

Make sure that you laugh a lot during the festival and you’ll enjoy it a lot better; trips with plenty of laughs and joy are also surefire ways to bond with your family and friends.

Remind yourself to catch the fireworks

queenstown winter festival fireworks

Held on the first Friday night of the festival, the fireworks are a thrilling way to kick off Queenstown’s best party and it is a sight that you will definitely regret missing out on.

Tourists usually think that the festival’s fireworks are the same as every other firework display out there; it’s not!

Whenever possible, book your trip early to secure the best places in town to spot the fireworks. Also, you want to make sure that your schedule does not clash with the timing of the fireworks.

Remember, miss it once and you’ll have to wait for another year!

About the Road Trip

We have a reputation for preparation and detail that goes above and beyond – making excellent recommendations for your itinerary as well as including the best stops to enjoy the scenery and take memorable photos on your next time.

We offer a wide choice of private tour packages and you can select one based on your needs and travel expectations.

From an 8-day Winterless North private guided tour that covers the very best of the North Island, to a 14-day self-drive adventure in New Zealand’s South Island, we’ve got your traveling needs covered.

We’ll be more than happy to discuss your interests and the length of your stay, before putting together an itinerary that is tailored exclusively for you.

What’s next?

Over here at The Road Trip, we have several tour packages on offer for visitors.

We are one of the leading tour provider in New Zealand with a host of awards under our name. You can check out our client testimonials over here.

To get in touch with us, send us an e-mail by heading over to this page or call us at 0800 4 ROADTRIP if you are in New Zealand or +64 2191 0433 if you are outside of New Zealand.