Pancakes. Lanterns. Music. Ice. Laughs. It's an action-packed celebration of everything winter.

From the popular Unison Light Trail to a brand new ice slide, a cold swim and hotly-anticipated shows, the inaugural Taupo Winter Festival runs from Friday, July 15, until Sunday, July 17.

It has 31 events, and all but five are free. There's a mixture of family-friendly entertainment as well as arts and culture, comedy and music and it's aimed both at locals and out-of-towners in Taupo for the school holiday break.

While Thursday night's play Sons of a Bitch is already almost sold out, the festival kicks off properly on Friday with a lantern-making workshop and firelight celebration before the Unison Light Trail comes to life on the Tongariro South Domain. Whisky tasting and jazz follow as swing blues band the Dancing and Drinking Society take the stage.


On Saturday, there's a high tea at the Hilton Lake Taupo with chamber music, comedy from Wilson Dixon and music from Automatic 80s at the Great Lake Centre hall, which will be transformed into a "dodgy 80s disco" for the night.

Throughout Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there will be plenty of free family events, including an art exhibition, a writing competition for school students and exhibition, a film showcase screening historic films of Taupo from 1920 to the 1990s and a giant canvas created by local illustrator Donovan Bixley to colour in.

Other July events have also come under the Taupo Winter Festival umbrella, including the Taupo Market, the popular Taupo Hobby Expo, open studios by local artists, the Turangi River Shiver and the Lake Taupo Mid-Winter Swim.

The festival is also bringing a new attraction, a 35m ice slide, free to the public from 10am to 4pm daily.

Towncentre Taupo is getting on board on Saturday, with Streets Alive, a collection of activities, entertainment and buskers around the Taupo shopping area.

The festival wraps up on Sunday with a free pancake breakfast for 2000 people and a full day of activities.

The festival is the brainchild of Taupo events and arts organisers Nicola Carter and Kylie Hawker-Green. Mrs Hawker-Green said they were excited about the blend of free events and ticketed shows.

"I'd be thrilled if everyone had a go at something - the light trail, a go on the ice slide or a party at Automatic 80s."

-Visit Tickets for the paid events are at Ticketek.