It’s not often you see someone standing in the middle of one of New Zealand’s busier runways, and its even rarer to witness two drag queens strutting and posing between take-offs and landings, but on Friday, for one brief moment, entertainers Nova Starr and Frothy la Frou Frou brought a touch of glamour to Queenstown Airport.

The occasion was to mark the lighting of the control tower in rainbow colours as Winter Pride gets underway for another year.

It’s the first time the tower has been lit up and Denise Church, chair of Airways which looks after air traffic control safety, said the gesture was important to honour the company’s diverse workforce.

“We normally support aviation-related events, but this is the first time that we are supporting a community event of this sort because of its significance, and as a signal around our intentions and our commitment to making our organisation safer and a good place for everybody,” Church told Stuff Travel.

“It seems neat to celebrate relationships that we have between the airport and the Queenstown community.”

Gavin Fernandez is on the board of Airways and the lighting of the tower was particularly personal for him as he is a member of the rainbow community himself.

“In my early days (in the aviation industry) I had challenges and it wasn’t an environment that was accepting, and I don’t want that for our team at Airways,” said Fernandez.

“I want them to come to work, be themselves, share who they are, and if you do, then that is a much safer and healthier environment.”

Thousands of LGBTQIA+ travellers are expected to fly into Queenstown as the South Island tourist hotspot hosts 10 days of fun, on and off the snow.

Queenstown Airport gets a rainbow makeover.


Queenstown Airport gets a rainbow makeover.

A huge chunk of those visitors fly in from Australia, including Campbell Bannerman, who has been at the event “seven or eight” times.

The Sydney fitness trainer said he “loves” Queenstown: “It’s the best place to ski. The accomodation is cheaper (than Australian ski fields), it’s a stunning location and with much better conditions.

“I will always come back to Queenstown and it’s one of those destinations that is very unique.”

But behind the frivolity and the parties, there’s a serious message about representation and how Winter Pride showcases the rainbow community.

Martin King is director of the festival and said the event has been warmly embraced in Queenstown.

“It’s been an evolution of more and more organisations, businesses of all shapes and sizes really, getting in behind, not just what Winter Pride means but leveraging … rainbow inclusion year-round for this community,” said King.

“I think we look to Wellington and to Auckland as our urban centres that are more progressive, but actually I look at Queenstown as a model of what regional centres in New Zealand can do – they get behind something. This community is deeply committed to wanting to be safer, and more welcoming and inclusive space for rainbow people all year round.”

Johanna Mckenzie-Mclean/Stuff

All the fun from Winter Pride Queenstown. (video published August 2018).

Safety is a key point for many of the visitors to the event. A recent survey by has found 85% of LGBTQIA+ Kiwi travellers feel they must consider their personal safety and wellbeing when picking a travel destination, up from 58% in 2022.

Seven in 10 of those surveyed said some destinations are completely off limits due to safety fears, with 56% having cancelled a trip in the past year after seeing a destination not supporting those who identify as LGBTQIA+.

For King, Pride “isn’t about the partying”.

“It’s a small component. Pride is rooted in protest. It’s rooted in advocacy and building visibility of marginalised groups. It still remains that today. We see that when we look at the US. Pride has never been more important in the US today because it’s going backwards.”

Just last week, a shop owner in California was killed following a dispute over a Pride flag she put up outside her store, while there have been many protests and laws targeting the drag community. Some of that vitriol has also made its way to New Zealand.

“The majority of the community supports Pride, it’s the minority that doesn’t,” said King.

“I think that’s something that I would encourage New Zealanders to think about. You might hear loud voices that are queerphobic or transphobic – but they are just loud, they are not actually the majority voice.”

For Nova Starr, she hopes her experience of flying from Wellington to Queenstown in full drag is a sign of just how accepting the wider community really is.

“People were really cool, saying ‘oh my gosh you look amazing’. Kids were interrogating me at Wellington Airport – just about how I managed to do my makeup and how does my hair look so real.”

She added: “Disappointed I didn’t get a catcall though.”

The author is at Winter Pride courtesy of and is hosting an event during the festival but is not otherwise affiliated with Pride.