Mandy Kennedy Talks Queenstown’s Winter Wonderland

In our ongoing exploration of New Zealand culture worth knowing about, we caught up with Queenstown resident and Queenstown Winter Festival team member Mandy Kennedy and discussed the small town community and big city ambition of her beautiful South Island hometown.

Tell us about a little bit about where you live, Queenstown… Paradise is what it is! For a small town (around 15-16,000 base population) it has a big town attitude. It is small enough to easily feel a part of this great community, large enough to go get lost in if you really want to (hiking at 12 Mile – Sam Somers track – awesome!), and with an international airport that can see you in Sydney in a few hours for a shopping splurge – it’s perfect. You know who your neighbours are, your local supermarket check-out operator by name, your coffee guy knows what you drink without having to ask and the after-hour fun is non-stop if you want it to be, or, if you want to just chill out is easy to achieve as well. Best of all family and good friend are happy and settled here and we all love it.

The Queenstown Winter Festival has been going for 36 years. Tell us a little bit about it. Icon’s don’t just happen overnight and the American Express Queenstown Winter Festival has been 36 years in the making. Way back in 1975 a bunch of locals decided that the start of Winter was a great excuse to have a party. They organized races on the mountain and in town, lollies for the kids, beers for the grown-ups a concert or two and a town-wide ball, all of which were a great success. News spread quickly and the next year people came from further afield to join in the festivities. Since then the Festival has evolved into New Zealand’s biggest winter party – it’s a 10 day celebration of Queenstown’s unique culture and community with street parties, fireworks, a glamorous Ball, international and local acts, jazz, comedy, Mardi Gras, family fun, rail jams and plenty of Mountain Mayhem. From June 25to July 4 this year the town will be a buzz with around 60,000 people celebrating the arrival of the 36th Winter Festival in true Queenstown style.

If you had a friend visiting from out of town, where are some of your favourite spots in the city to take them to? Queenstown Gardens – anytime of year is my all time favourite spot in Queenstown, Queenstown Hill Basket of Dreams to show-off the beautiful basin, Arrowtown (pop into Dorothy Browns to watch a movie and Blue Door for a sneaky Pinot), Barmuda – just because it is my favourite bar and food, well, Captains Table for Breakfast, Pier 19 for lunch/brunch, Botswana Butchery/Bunker/Mandy’s home-made pizzas for dinner and afternoon tea at Nugget Point (divine!). Naturally the Winterfest is the biggest, most fun, exhausting and cool event – 10-days of full-on fun – always make a point to tell the visitors to programme their stay around that time as can ski, party, relax do whatever really – and the atmosphere in town is electric, it is truly special. My top pics (and this is seriously hard to do) – Lindauer Marquerade Ball – my husband and I love any excuse to get totally dressed up, Canadian Club Comedy Gala – just because we love to laugh, Street Parade – jolly good old fashioned wholesome family fun and is great to see the community band together and celebrate Winter, MoreFM Day on the Bay – the Birdman is a winner, hilarious fun for young and old, back that up with the Drag Race at Downtown Day – it makes me cry from laughing so hard, Mt Mayhem at Coronet Peak is also great fun and the girls in the Ladies Fashion Show are an inspiration.

What do you love about Queenstown/New Zealand? Queenstown – Sense of community, vibrancy, its visitors which makes it feel oh so international at times and love the way the visitors embrace Queenstown (or does Queenstown embrace the visitors?). New Zealand – well, quite simply am well proud to be a kiwi and to live in the greatest little country in the world – plus our accent works well in the US which is handy to get into exclusive clubs.

What is the biggest misconception about Queenstown/ New Zealand? Queenstown – it’s expensive (not true) and Winter is the busiest time of the year (summer is).

Who are some of your favourite homegrown creative inspirations, e.g. designers, artists, musicians… I’ve got a lot of time for Grahame Sydney – Big Sky Country’ ohhh you just got to get down to Central during summer it is so beautiful and Grahame depicts it so gorgeously. The Feelers – oh dear, showing my age? And they are on the RWC ads which means I get my Feelers fix more than once a day – outstanding! Also you need to know about the Claire Bloom range, beautiful tops, skirts, pants whatever, locally designed, just beautiful – it is inspiring what talent comes from this little town.