About 45,000 people will inject an estimated $57 million into the Queenstown economy over the next 10 days during the 2014 Queenstown Winter Festival, which opened with a bang last night.

A flaming "40", honouring the festival's anniversary, lit up the sky over Lake Wakatipu and Earnslaw Park at the end of a nearly 10-minute fireworks display, which drew gasps and cheers from the tens of thousands of people who took in the sights, sounds and tastes of the Southern Hemisphere's biggest winter party.

Associate Tourism Minister Todd McClay said Queenstown was "the most important part of New Zealand ... tonight", while Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden paid tribute to those who had made the festival a success over four decades.

She then opened the festival.


"Welcome to the party, welcome to Queenstown ... take care of yourselves, be very responsible, but make sure you enjoy your time in our town."

Over the coming days, more than 70 events will be held, catering to all facets of the community and sending the message globally that Queenstown is open for winter.

Destination Queenstown chief executive Graham Budd said while it would be nice to have had more snow, "this is a winter festival, not a snow festival".

The event, which began as a small party for the 5000 residents in 1974, giving them something to do over the quiet winter months, was now "critically important" for the resort, the region and New Zealand, Mr Budd said.

It was also likely a large number of the international visitors over the next 10 days - and the coming months - would be arriving on flights from Australia.

Qantas had, for the first time, become the festival's airline sponsor, but it had also increased its schedule from Australia, particularly Sydney, during peak winter months.

This week, Australian breakfast show Sunrise, which has an average weekly reach of 3 million viewers, had been broadcasting from Queenstown, which was "sensational" for the resort, Mr Budd said.

The only winter event which hasn't turned up is snow. Warm weather has delayed the opening of the Remarkables and the Snow Farm skifields, but limited skiing is available at the Cardrona Alpine Resort. Weather forecasts for the field predict a "dusting" of snow tonight but rising temperatures next week.

The Remarkables ski area announced yesterday it would delay its proposed Saturday opening "until snow cover improves".