Festival countdown on

The sights, sounds and experience of Queenstown Winter Festival, including  fireworks,  charity...
The sights, sounds and experience of Queenstown Winter Festival, including fireworks, charity boxing, drag racing, and suitcase racing are set to dazzle for the 40th time when the event starts with a bang on Friday. Photos by Stefan Haworth...
Suitcase races.
Suitcase races.
The drag race.
The drag race.
Charity Boxing.
Charity Boxing.

The stage is being set, fireworks prepared, volunteers organised and performers are packing their bags in readiness for the official opening of Queenstown's 40th Winter Festival on Friday night.

What began as a small community celebration in 1975, providing the 5000 locals with something to do during the quiet winter months when there were no tourists and many businesses were forced to close, has morphed into the biggest celebration of winter in the southern hemisphere.

The 10-day event now attracts about 45,000 new and returning festival-goers from around the world each year, injecting an estimated $57 million into the local economy.

This year's festival includes several events which have been on the calendar for all 40 years, for example, the Hospitality Race, formerly the Waiters' Race, and the Dog Derby at Coronet Peak on Thursday, along with the return of some old favourites, including the Comedy Debate.

Director Lisa Buckingham said this year's festival was not only a celebration of winter, but of the community which had kept the event running for 40 years.

''It's going to be a really big year.

''We've got so much to celebrate ... make sure you get amongst it.

''There's going to be something for everyone - it's an event for the community, so hopefully the community gets in behind it.''

The party will get under way on Friday night as thousands of people head in to the Queenstown CBD for the opening party and fireworks, beginning at 5.30pm, with local bands performing hits from the past four decades, before a fireworks display befitting the 40th anniversary lights up the sky at 7pm.

Following that, ''quintessential Kiwi rockers'' the Exponents will take the stage to set the tone for the next 10 days.

The opening weekend will see the Golden Mile street race before the festival street parade at noon on Saturday, and ticket holders dressed to the nines to attend the Narnia Ball on Saturday night at the Queenstown Memorial Centre.

Sports fans also have their pick of action, with the Wakatipu rugby team taking on Alexandra at the Queenstown Recreation Ground at 2.30pm, while at 7pm the puck will drop at the Queenstown Ice Arena for the southern derby, where the Southern Stampede will take on the Dunedin Thunder in the first game of a double-header.

On Sunday, action will include the Day on the Bay, featuring the Birdman, Jet Sprints, Splash and Dash, Paddleboard Race and Undy 500 before the Comedy Debate on Sunday evening, at which Paul Ego, Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt, Michelle A'Court, Jesse Mulligan, Jacinda Ardern and Oliver Driver will debate ''40 is the new 30'', kept in line by moderator Jeremy Corbett.

Ms Buckingham said people could also take a stroll down memory lane and take in an outdoor exhibition on Marine Parade, telling the story of the festival over the past 40 years.

Eichardt's Tavern Revisited is planned for the Queenstown Memorial Centre next Friday, where the old tavern is being recreated allowing people to experience Queenstown's ''greatest pub phenomena''.

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