A 21-year-old Australian has won one of New Zealand's most prestigious piano contests, held in the Bay of Islands over the weekend.

Alex Raineri took home $17,500 in prize money after winning both Sunday's final round of the Kerikeri International Piano Competition and the prize for best sonata.

The 54 young pianists from around the world who applied for the 2014 contest were whittled down to 14 front-runners from Australia, China, Malaysia, New Zealand and the US, who were invited to compete in the four-day event.

Each of the four finalists played for an hour on Sunday to a full house at Kerikeri's Turner Centre and a panel of three judges. A delighted Mr Raineri said he had not expected to win but thought he might put the money aside to offset further studies. The top prize is worth $15,000, with another $2500 for best sonata.


Mr Raineri has recently completed a bachelor of music with first class honours at the Queensland Conservatorium.

Second was Auckland's Sylvia Jiang representing New Zealand, third Ayesha Gough of Australia, and fourth Xuan He of China.

Miss Jiang, 18, also won a special prize offered by Sir Michael Hill, a keen supporter of the competition, and open to New Zealand entrants.

She has been offered return air fares to Queenstown, accommodation at Sir Michael's lodge at Arrowtown, and a chance to play on his classic Steinway.

Sir Michael, who started his career as a jeweller in Whangarei, quipped that the winner of his prize would have to put up with being mentored by him.

The encouragement award went to Daniel Le of Australia and the people's choice award to Lucy Zeng (China/New Zealand).

The contest is held every two years. Its patron is the renowned classical pianist Michael Houston. Contestants must be aged under 28.