9 Feb 2023

NZ New Year’s Eve celebrations mark a return to business as usual

by Jenny Barrett

Across the country as fireworks lit up the sky, AV hire companies breathed a sigh of relief and looked forward to a year of strong bookings.

In the capital Wellington, festivities in Whairepo Lagoon kicked off with live bands, followed by Orchestra Wellington delighting the crowds with a disco theme, building up to the New Year’s countdown and fireworks. For Pyrostar, MJF Lighting and Western Audio, it was good to be back making community events happen.

Sebastian Hesp, Wellington Manager at Western Audio, reflected, “We got that feelgood factor back that we have been missing. It is super awesome to be involved with something for the community. It was wicked for families to have an event where they could come together and celebrate for free. This was for everyone.”

Crowd gathers at Wellington’s Whairepo Lagoon

And for once, and in stark contrast to what was to hit the North Island over the following weeks, Wellington put on perfect conditions, “It was lovely, no wind, always a good thing for the Whairepo Lagoon. With the audience a good eighty metres across the water from the stage, they are a long way from the speaker point so we use a d&b KSL System. We had a team of four catering for the large number of players and their specific requirements.”

Auckland’s SkyCity celebrations and fireworks were also back in full swing, having been scaled down last year. 2021 was Pyrostar International Director and Designer Robert McDermott’s first New Year’s Eve off work in thirty-seven years but this year he was back with 500kg of fireworks supported on racks custom built for Sky Tower. Due to international supply chain issues, Robert started planning and designing the show in February to be sure he had everything he needed for the 3500 shot display arriving on time. The show combined single star comets with mines exploding from the ground, releasing between twenty and thirty stars, and cross-sets which look like a shell burst, taking full advantage of the option to launch from three levels on the SkyTower, up, down and around.

Auckland’s Sky Tower

The fireworks were accompanied by a Kiwi music soundtrack and a light show provided by Ben Lawrence, Director and Designer of Soulstorm Lasers, one of eight events the laser company supplied within a five-day period, “It was good to be incredibly hectic again and the crowds were the biggest I’ve ever seen in seven years of doing the event.” This year’s laser show was upgraded to include three high power lasers at each of the northern, western and southern projection locations surrounding the tower.


This provided a total of 50W of laser power at each location. Using three lasers allowed a countdown to be displayed on the top section while simultaneously projecting detailed artistic content on the stem of the tower, covering more than 80% of the full tower. The three laser stations were synchronised using a 60GHz microwave link installed inside the tower communications deck.

Laser countdown in Auckland

The content was also significantly improved. Soulstorm Lasers’ resident designer Catherine Ellis created a timeline with soft textures, geometric, digital and organic sections, which built up to the midnight moment. Much of the content was generated from video, as opposed to using laser software, which made the display unique. Each section was integrated and choreographed with the tower lights, which had been turned off in previous years.

Ben also designed the lightshow for Dunedin City Council who decided to move away from fireworks, due to building works in proximity of the Octagon posing a fire risk. Soulstorm Lasers and U.S. based laser designer Nisha Ramnath produced a midnight show which included laser mapping of the Burns House office tower and nearby buildings. The show comprised seven high power lasers, including a 48W Arctos unit which is the brightest show laser in NZ. The seven minute show was choreographed to music, using speakers spread around the Octagon provided by Strawberry Sound. Event Team Leader at Dunedin City Council Dan Hendra was pleased with the impact, “It was really exciting to do something different for New Year and we can see the potential for future events. We are already in the process of collating feedback from the community and putting it in front of Council for New Year’s Eve 2023.”

Laser mapping in Dunedin

On a smaller scale, provincial cities across the country joined in the celebrations. New Zealand’s first city to see in 2023 rang in the new year with the annual Fire in the Sky event, sponsored by family business Walter Findlay Ltd Quality Bakers since 2002 and run in conjunction with Gisborne District Council.

Fireworks and soundtrack were designed and delivered by Christchurch’s Fireworks Professionals. For Magenta Wilde, Director, it was a relief to be back, “Before COVID we would have fifty events between Guy Fawkes and January, last year saw us down to nine, now we are back up to eighteen so we’re going in the right direction.” And for long- time stalwart of Gisborne NYE celebrations, Fireworks Technician Chris Hilder, it was wonderful to be under the pump again, “We do the Fire in the Sky and Rhythm and Vines over the two days, so I run between the two. The New Years’ celebrations are technically difficult to get right due to the three separate locations of the audience spread around a river confluence, but it sounded and looked fantastic this year. It was brilliant.”

Live music in Wellington

Palmerston North got in on the action with Council upping its production and organising a fire and dance show, various family-friendly singers and an early kids’ fireworks display followed by a thirteen-piece band performing popular hits. Noise Productions, Masterton provided the sound system, Peak Audio supplied the stage and MDR Sound & Lighting supplied the lighting.

Communities across New Zealand came together, as did AV companies, to mark the end of what was a tough year, optimistic that, in the words of Brodie Noon, MD of MDR Lighting and Sound, “Aside from the global skills crisis and the current weather, things were looking good!”


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