Culture event a bright light in city
There's something magical about seeing thousands of brightly-lit lanterns transform Albert Park into a dream-like setting for the annual Auckland Lantern Festival.
Glen Eden resident Becky Ehlers has been involved with erecting the lanterns since the festival first began 14 years ago, and is still taken back by the surreal atmosphere of the glowing lights.
"There is something about seeing the park lit up with the lanterns. I love the colour and light," she says.
"Decorating and enhancing the park, which is so beautiful anyway, is very rewarding."
Ms Ehlers, 39, is production manager of the festival's art department which sees her put up the lanterns and make sure the park reflects the atmosphere of an authentic Chinese New Year.
In partnership between Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) and Asia New Zealand Foundation, the festival is expecting up to 60,000 people enjoying a range of activities in Albert Park and inner-city streets.
The Auckland Lantern Festival is the largest annual Chinese event in the region and brings to a close the traditional fortnight of Chinese New Year celebrations.
Each year, the festival focuses around an animal of the Chinese zodiac and 2013 is the year of the snake, which represents wisdom and intuition.
Ms Ehlers says there will be an array of lanterns and scenes at the festival which will have a serpent-like feel to them.
"This year we have a snake lantern coming from China. There's a traditional Chinese story that involves the snake and we are getting a big scene which portrays that," she says.
There will also be scenes depicting a Buddha and swans, to name a few.
"That's what I love doing; thinking about what we can do with the lanterns."
"I work with Asia New Zealand to make sure the lanterns will add to the scenes and that are appropriate for the year."
The lanterns are imported from Singapore and China.
Ms Ehlers has seen the festival grow throughout the years she's been involved.
"We started off with one 20ft container of lanterns. We now have five 20ft containers and seven 40ft containers."
"It's always exciting getting the lanterns out of the containers; it's like Christmas morning, unwrapping them all," she says.
Ms Ehlers' favourite part is seeing the lanterns glowing the night before the festival begins.
"I love when we turn on the whole park and see we've done a really nice job. That is magical," she says.
Ms Ehlers also organises and erects the lanterns at the Christchurch festival which begins a week after Auckland.
The acting general manager of ATEED, Jennah Wootten, says the festival - which received $250,000 from ATEED's major events fund - is a cultural highlight in Auckland.
"The region's growing Chinese community has embraced the spirit of the event and introduced its unique culture to other Aucklanders. Albert Park illuminated by beautifully crafted lanterns is a memorable sight," she says.
The festival runs from February 22 to 24.
Go to aucklandnz.com/lanternfestival for more information.