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ULTIMATE Guide to the Queenstown Winter Festival

ULTIMATE Guide to the Queenstown Winter Festival

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Note: The Queenstown Winter Festival is not scheduled for this year (2024). If it occurs again in the future, we will update this article.

In Queenstown, the first day of winter is celebrated with a four-day-long festival – the annual Queenstown Winter Festival.

The Queenstown Winter Festival is a great way to get excited for one very busy (and snowy) season in this tourist town. The festival brings the community together with a variety of events night and day and is a tradition as it has been running for more than 40 years!

The last time the festival was held, I had the opportunity to check out the Queenstown Winter Festival and some of the most popular activities. In this blog, I’ll review what I did and saw as well as include some useful info! This is your complete guide to the Queenstown Winter Festival (updated to reflect the 2022 event!)

The Main Attractions at the Queenstown Winter Festival

queenstown winter festival live music
Sweet Mix Kids performing. They were one of the many different musical acts at the festival

Some of the most popular attractions include fireworks, a dog barking competition on Cardrona, lake jumping (Birdman), the Red Bull-sponsored Rail Jam competition, concerts, a comedy night, and a rafting race on the lake.

The events change annually so for the most updated information check out the schedule here.

Related Read: If you’re in town during the winter you have to take adantage of the Queenstown ski season for some of the best skiing in the country!

The Queenstown Winter Festival Fireworks

queenstown winter festival fireworks
  • When: Friday, July 8th, 2022 at 7 pm
  • Where: Queenstown Bay
  • Cost: Free

The biggest attraction at the Queenstown Winter Festival by far is the fireworks. The fireworks happen one night every year without fail and are quite an impressive display. They are set off from a boat in the lake showcasing an amazing reflection in the water.

Thousands of people gather at the marina to watch the display, and while you think that these many people would limit the viewing space available, Queenstown is blessed with a huge waterfront area. We were able to get right up to the water’s edge to watch the show!

Tons of market stalls around sold food, drinks, and sweets. The licensed areas sold alcohol and I treated myself of a mulled wine (which was amazing!)

With a mulled wine in hand, I watch the fireworks on the lake with the mountains in the background. It was gorgeous.

Red Bull’s Steel Rail Jam Competition

rail jam at the winter festival
Olympic Medalists performed stunts on the rails of the Brecon Street stairs

On Thursday evening hundreds of people gathered on Brecon Street near the stairs to watch a display of snowboarding and ski stunts.

Olympic Medalists from Wanaka, Nico Porteous, and Zoi Sadowski-Synott, came with a team of skilled skiers and snowboards to perform stunts on the railings of the stairs.

Earlier in the day, the stairs were covered in snow, which is an impressive task on its own as there is actually no snow in Queenstown.

It was a creative and fun event to watch that attracted many of the thrill-seekers who love the slopes around Queenstown.

Coronet Peak Ski Nights

  • When: Friday 8 and Saturday 9 July 2022 4 pm – 9 pm
  • Where: Coronet Peak
  • Cost: Unkown

Winter Swim Event

  • When: Saturday 9th of July, 12:30 to 1:30 pm
  • Where: Queenstown Bay Beach
  • Cost: $40-50 NZD

Related Read: Learn what hitting the slopes at Cardrona Ski Resort near Queenstown is all about!

Music and live bands

MAALA performing
MAALA performing
  • Headliners for 2022: Mitch James, NZ band stellar* 
  • When: Friday 8 July 4 pm – 9 pm and Saturday 9 July 4 pm – 8 pm
  • Where: TomTom Sound Stage in Earnslaw Park
  • Cost: Free

One of my personal favorite parts of the Queenstown Winter Festival was the live music. Over the course of the four days, every time I was in town there was at least one live music act playing. The two stages set up in the heart of Queenstown allowed for some great musicians to show off their talent.

I was particularly impressed with the musicians who performed in the evenings at the Bath House Stage. This was the larger stage. They went all out with this one, huge light displays and an awesome sound system were great, especially because all of the events at the Bath House Stage were free!!

Some of the musicians I saw were Sweet Mix Kids, MAALA, and The Black Seeds. Each of them was unique from the next and brought quite a crowd.

There was also a music festival happening at Queenstown Memorial Center on Saturday night but this was a ticketed event at $40 NZD. I didn’t get a chance to check this festival out but I heard that it was a good time.

Related Read: Enjoy epic views from a mountain-side dining experience at Heidi’s Hut in Queenstown.

Info about the Queenstown Winter Festival

food trucks at the festival
Enjoying a bite to eat from one of the food trucks!

The Queenstown Winter Festival runs annually at the beginning of winter. In 2022 it will run from Thursday 7 July – Sunday 10 July 2022.

Although lots of the events during the festival are free, many of the most popular are actually ticketed. For example, the comedy show sells out in advance every year.

The Queenstown winter festival also brings many tourists to town for the weekend, this can mean finding accommodation or places to eat can prove to be difficult. If you are planning on visiting Queenstown for the winter festival be sure to book your accommodation well in advance.

Looking for accommodation in Queenstown? Click here to browse all of your options. Or, check out our blog about where to stay in Queenstown!

Parking is a nightmare, don’t try to find parking. Many road closures occur during the festival to account for the many people walking the streets which limits parking spaces available. Take public transit when necessary. For bus times and routes in Queenstown, click here. 

All information about the events, times, and FAQs can be found on the Queenstown Winter Festival website here.

The Nightlife

For those who are looking for a party, after all of the official festivities have stopped, the bars continue the celebration!

The many people around town mean that finding a place to eat can be difficult as many places are full, but the upside is that the bars are pumping every night! The Queenstown Winter Festival brings what is already a great nightlife in Queenstown, an even bigger and brighter nightlife with special DJs, beer tastings, and late nights.

Want to know the best bars to party at? Check out our best bars in Queenstown post here!

Overall Opinion of the Queenstown Winter Festival

I loved it! On the final day of the festival, I actually said to Daniel “I wish it was the winter festival every weekend!” There was a sense of celebration in the air that was contagious.

While many places in the world dread the shorter cold days of winter, Queenstown embraces it with a celebration! And why not celebrate, winter in Queenstown means one of the busiest seasons, skiing and snowboarding, as well as breathtaking views of snow-covered mountains!

Related Read: There are so many aweseome things to do in Queenstown which is why we wrote the ultimate guide to Queentown to help make your trip planning that much easier.

Where to Stay in Queenstown

the outside of the Hilton on the lake in Queenstown
Want to stay near the lake with mountain views? Yes, please! Photo Credit: Hilton Queenstown

Queenstown is filled with amazing things to do but also awesome places to stay! One thing about Queenstown though, if you don’t book in advance you will miss out on the best places (and the cheapest ones at that!) Here’s our list of recommended hotels in Queenstown:

The Flaming Kiwi Backpackers – $

This was the first place I ever stayed in Queenstown. It’s a great budget backpacker hostel with a very social vibe. The building is kind of old but it’s great value and even has onsite parking for free! A dorm bed here will cost you around $28 NZD per night!

Melbourne Lodge – $$

Another beautiful hotel that is located in the heart of Queenstown. What I love about this place is it sits on the end of Queenstown near the airport meaning that you never have to drive through town to visit the ski fields or many major attractions. It’ll save you time and all-round it’s a fantastic place to stay! Rooms here can be as little as $130 NZD per night!

Rydges – $$

I haven’t actually stayed at the Rydges but my brother has. He recommends it as one of the best places to stay in Queenstown for location, price, and amenities! Surprisingly, rooms start at only $150 NZD per night here.

Novotel Queenstown Lakeside – $$$

If you want to be close to town then you can’t pass on the Novatel. It’s literally right in the town center near the bustling beach and walking streets. Great hotel, great location, and all-around a great place to stay! Rooms start at $225 NZD.

Hilton Queenstown Spa & Resort – $$$

Bailey and I spent our anniversary at the Hilton and really loved our stay. It’s located a little out of town but they run a free shuttle every 30 minutes. The rooms are beautiful in classic Hilton-style and to me, it’s great value starting at $225 NZD per night.

If you want more information on the different areas to stay in Queenstown and more options for hotels, then check out our blog about where to stay in Queenstown!

Note: When booking hotels we always use The reason? They are almost always cheaper (we have booked over 250 hotels with them) and if you find a better price they’ll match it guaranteed – even if it’s a special on their own website!

Other Must-Do Activities in Queenstown

Bailey stands at the front of the TSS Earnslaw on our way back from Queenstown best bike tour
Riding the TSS Earnslaw!

Other than hiking, there are lots of other amazing things to do in and around Queenstown.

Some of my favorites are:

  • Full-Day Milford Sound Experience – This award-winning Queenstown cruise takes place in one of the most scenic places in New Zealand, Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. This tour takes you along a scenic drive stopping at many of the best lakes, valleys, and tunnels before ending the experience on a 2-hour cruise through the fjords and waterfalls in Milford Sound. It will be a full day, to say the least, but it will be an unforgettable experience. Lunch is provided.
  • Dinner at Walter Peak High Country Farm and Cruise – This laid-back dinner plus cruise is perfect for a day off from physical activity. You’ll ride on the 1912 vintage steamer, the TSS “Earnslaw” to Walter Peak High Country Farm where you’ll enjoy high-end barbequed meats or seafood- buffet style. Cap things off with the choice of desserts and cheeses. After, you’ll have the option to stay behind or watch a sheepdog show and sheepshearing demonstration. Truly one of the most exceptional Queenstown tours!
  • Scenic Gourmet Food and Wine Tour – Sip wine from New Zealand’s largest wine cave, be served a gourmet lunch and indulge in local cheeses. While enjoying wines from the best regions on the island you will also pass by scenic locations and learn about the Otago Gold Rush. This half-day wine tour in Queenstown has a badge of excellence for being one the best and most popular Queenstown activities.
  • Shotover River Canyon Swing– Calling all thrill-seekers! You can jump solo or go tandem on this 60-meter (200-foot) freefall over the Shotover River Canyon. The heart-thumping jump transitions into a graceful swing rocking back and forth above the most epic views. You can expect to allow 2.5hrs for this activity.
  • Small-Group Zipline Adventure– If you’re not into freefall activities this zipline over Lake Wakatipu and the snow-capped Southern Alps is a great meet-in-the-middle option that can still push you out of your comfort zone if you so choose. You can pick from one of three height options that you feel most comfortable with. The professional guides make sure to provide you with the safest possible experience.

Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand

Bailey takes a selfie with a JUCY campervan
Ready to hit the road!
Bailey stands infront of a JUCY campervan in New Zealand
JUCY is another favorite!

The first step to planning your New Zealand road trip is choosing your set of wheels! Most people rent a campervan or motorhome to get around, but you can also just rent a normal car and stay in hotels (as opposed to camping.)

You can search for rental cars online here in advance to compare car models and prices.

You can also do this with motorhomes and campervans on a website called Motorhome Republic. It shows all of the available campervans and motorhomes for your specific New Zealand road trip dates. You can compare prices and company reviews here too!

JUCY is our personal favorite campervan rental company in NZ. We love JUCY because they have such a range of both cars and campervans available, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to suit your budget and travel style.

We’ve actually secured an exclusive discount code for our readers with JUCY. Just click here to browse their availability and use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off! What a good deal!

You can check prices, availability and book with JUCY online here.

Star RV is another company we personally recommend but specifically for motorhomes! They offer larger motorhomes (as opposed to budget campervans) at really reasonable rates.

Star RV has actually given us a discount code for our readers too! Use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off your motorhome rental! Note, this code is only valid for bookings made before June 21, 2024 with travel dates before Dec 21, 2024. Click here to browse availability, prices, and book with our discount code!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey skiing at Cardron Ski resort in New Zealand
Down I go!

That’s all for this guide of an overview of what to expect for the Queenstown Winter Festival as well as a look into what events are going on this year! If you’re spending some time in the area there are lots of great things to do in Queenstown, so make sure to check out our Queenstown page for more ideas or our New Zealand page for ideas to explore the rest of the country. Also, here are some helpful guides for your visit to Queenstown:

Best restaurants in Queenstown

Best tours in Queenstown

Most Instagramable spots in Queenstown


Monday 27th of March 2023

Hi What date is the 2023 winter fistival


Thursday 30th of March 2023

Hey Mike,

The festival has no official dates as of yet this year.

Please check back in a few weeks.