Queenstown Winter Festival: How to lose a bet and win cash

Queenstown revelled in its annual day of chills and spills on Saturday at the peak of its Winter Festival, with a bunch of competitions on the shore of freezing cold Lake Wakatipu.

Hordes of brave and bare young men and women turned out for the Undy 500 - a race involving competitors in nothing but underwear running an obstacle course of glacial water, tyres, hay bales and a bouncy castle.

Of the budgy-smuggler-clad men, Aucklander Alex Radley took out first place. He was closely followed by Swiss man Marcel Stettler and American Harold Chiffoleau.

But the women's race deservedly went to Winton local Georgia Holt, who walked away with $250 and a week's Jucy van rental. 

"It was a girl's weekend and I lost a bet, so thought I would give it a crack," she said.

"First time entering, didn't need much convincing because I'm a student so needed some extra cash for the weekend."

Being from Southland, the cool climate was no deterrent for the 20-year-old. It proved an advantage on the course, where Ms Holt had no strategy - just mind over matter, she says.

The nearly-nude beach run was soon followed by Queenstown's iconic Birdman competition, where elaborately-costumed contestants perform their best dance before jumping from the top of a barge into Lake Wakatipu.

There were awards for best flight and costume, but the overall prize went to the four brave souls from Queenstown's Volunteer Fire Brigade.

Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade.
Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade. Photo credit: Queenstown Winter Festival

Firefighter Jesse Johnston said summer's definitely a better time for jumping in the lake.

"It was fresh. Let's just say certain parts of the body were very, very cold."

The team performed what looked like well-practiced choreography - starting in fire-protective suits and inside a cardboard firetruck, followed by some nimble stripping, spraying of the fire extinguisher, and an artful dive into the water.

Competitors in the Undy 500.
Competitors in the Undy 500. Photo credit: Queenstown Winter Festival

And it all played out perfectly in time with their theme song, 'Hurry, Hurry, Drive the Firetruck'.

"We literally made it up on the spot about 20 minutes before our show." Mr Johnston said. "We have to thank our deputy chief for the song."

They were talked into the idea by one of the firefighters' partners who made the Birdman jump in 2016.

"We had to ruffle a few feathers to get the people willing to jump in the lake," Mr Johnston said.

Birmdman competitor.
Birmdman competitor. Photo credit: Queenstown Winter Festival

Birdman's not an old tradition for the firefighters, but with a title to defend it may have to become one, he said.

"We'll have to get something a little more aerodynamic than a fire truck."


Matthew Hutching was a guest of the Queenstown Winter Festival and Air New Zealand.

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