2 Jan 2015

Queenstown party town again

7:40 am on 2 January 2015

The tourism industry this year emerged from the Global Financial Collapse-driven doldrums, and Queenstown was at the ready to capitalise on the trend.

Night time skiing at Coronet Peak would have been unthinkable to the early organiser of the Queenstown Winter Festival.

Night skiing at Coronet Peak. Photo: QUEENSTOWN WINTER FESTIVAL

The resort's airport was quick to talk up increased capacity as the airlines moved to put on more flights to meet the growing demand, particularly from the east coast of Australia.

Extra flights will be helped by a planned $10 million extension to Queenstown Airport's international terminal - and the plan to offer night flights by 2016.

The plans can only increase Queenstown's yearly contribution to the economy, which topped $1 billion for the first time in 2014.

Queenstown Airport.

Queenstown Airport. Photo: Queenstown Airport

The desire of civic officials to build a world class convention centre in Queenstown dominated the headlines throughout 2014, with the district council voting to move ahead and build the facility.

The Government offered a fillip, of sorts, when Prime Minister and Tourism Minister John Key announced it would offer financial support for a convention centre in the town.

But that was tempered somewhat by the fact that the money on offer would be less than the $20 million the Queenstown Lakes District Council was hoping for.

A large crowd turned out for the Queenstown debate.

A large crowd turned out for the Queenstown debate. Photo: RNZ / Steve Wilde

The Government wasn't always ready to back tourist free enterprise.

In May, Conservation Minister Nick Smith rejected a plan by developer Bob Robertson to build a monorail close to Fiordland National Park.

Mr Smith drew the curtain on 10 years' work by Mr Robertson to build his dream venture.

By years' end Mr Robertson would be dead, after being diagnosed with cancer.

Queenstown also lost two other entrepreneurs during 2014; Bill Walker and David Speight were killed when their glider crashed in Namibia in early December.

The pair were described as the senior statesmen of New Zealand gliding and news of their deaths left the Queenstown community reeling.

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Photo: PHOTO NZ

Many Queenstown locals also diced with death thanks to erratic tourist drivers, leading Southern coroner Richard McElrea to recommend changes to the way overseas drivers hit the roads in this country.

In the strongest push yet for controls on tourist drivers, Mr McElrea pushed the Government for more police powers to get unsafe motorists off the road, and for tougher tests by rental companies.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were perhaps the most notable tourists to visit Queenstown during the year - but they certainly weren't doing any driving of their own.

Instead, they supped local wine - with images of the Duchess enjoying a tipple scuppering pregnancy rumours - and took a ride on the Shotover Jet Boat.

Images of the jet boat ride went worldwide, and Shotover Jet Boat general manager Clark Scott declared it the best piece of advertising in the company's history.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Amisfield Winery in Queenstown on Sunday.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Amisfield Winery in Queenstown on Sunday. Photo: POOL

Queenstown's Winter Festival celebrated 40 years this year, the star-studded event a far cry from the first event.

Clive Geddes was on that first committee and fondly recalls the first mad-cap event.

"There was cow-pat throwing and waiters' races, with all the hospitality workers running through the streets balancing trays of champagne," he said.

Fireworks are always a welcome sight on the opening night of the Queenstown Winter Festival.

Fireworks are always a welcome sight on the opening night of the Queenstown Winter Festival. Photo: QUEENSTOWN WINTER FESTIVAL

The festival officially kicks off the ski season, and tens of thousands hit the slopes this year to make it the biggest season on record.

Night time skiing at Coronet Peak would have been unthinkable to the early organiser of the Queenstown Winter Festival.

Night skiing at Coronet Peak. Photo: QUEENSTOWN WINTER FESTIVAL

Heath issues were a real worry for Queenstowners during the year, with a review of how the Southern District Heath Board (DHB) delivers services in the resort town coming under the spotlight.

DHB chief executive Carole Heatley was keen to push the hospital out of public ownership and into the hands of a private trust.

The outcome of that review will play out well into 2015 but doctors are keen to ensure the hospital remains in public hands.

The year drew to a close with an alleged kidnap saga which involved at least five Queenstown locals.

Those arrested included former Southland Rugby representative Pita Wilson and Joshua Veint, the youngest member of one of Queenstown's oldest families.

Those arrested in connection with the kidnapping are set to appear in court early in 2015.

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