As long as people keep voting with their feet and walking through the gates of the Fiesta of Lights, organiser Te Rangi Huata says the dazzling display will stay open.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the popular Christmas and New Year light display held in the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds.

"My brother Tama and I stared it in 1998 because we wanted something to celebrate the millennium and thought we needed a bit of a practice run," Te Rangi said.

"We had one light sculpture and 1000 fairy lights. Entry was food for the foodbank or a gold coin. We still have that light sculpture but now we have 40 more. I really didn't expect it to still be going 20 years later.


"The signal for me to stop will be when people don't turn up but there is no sign of that happening. We average 15,000 people over the 21 nights.

"The thing that I love the most is the people coming in now that came themselves as a child and have made it a part of their Christmas or New Year tradition.

"One night when I was on the gate I said 'thank you for coming' to a lady and she told me she used to come as a little girl and now she was bringing her own family."

When Te Rangi and his brother first started talking about it as an alcohol-free family event people told them it wouldn't work.

"They said people won't come if there's no alcohol. We were aiming to get families here and 80 per cent of families don't drink."

Another tradition of the Fiesta of Lights is the fireworks display on New Year's Eve.

A writer who had gone along to the event one year emailed Te Rangi and wrote "my children can't make it to midnight. Is there any chance of celebrating earlier".

"I thought that was a great idea. After all it is a family event. So now on New Year's Eve we have a pretend countdown and let off the fireworks at 9.45pm."


To celebrate 20 years Te Rangi was trying to purchase an interactive light sculpture from as artist in New York.

"However, when they told me the price was a quarter of a million dollars I suddenly didn't think we needed it. She did offer to rent it to us for US$25,000 but I declined," he laughed.

Instead they have made a series of interactive lights including Lovely Dovey Swan which is two swans looking at each other and their necks from a heart.

"It's tall enough that people can get their photo taken under it. We don't usually name our sculptures, we leave that to the people."

There are no maps at the Fiesta of Light.

"I think it's important for families to get out and enjoy each other's company. Wander around at their leisure and go whichever way they want to.

"One family said to me that their baby was crying and they couldn't get him to settle so they brought him to the festival in his pyjamas and by the time they left he was asleep.

"You see lots of children here in their pyjamas. It's great they come here and run around. No one is telling them to sit still and be quiet and it doesn't cost a lot of money.

"It's really heartening for me to see families having fun together and laughing."

Te Rangi said he was really grateful to the Hasting District Council for its continued support "not just money wise but services as well".

As usual Te Rangi will be there every night of the festival which runs from December 15 to January 7.

Gates open 9pm to 11pm nightly and 8.30pm on New Year's Eve. Entry is $6 for all ages, under-3s are free.