Southern police had to carve a path through the throng of people for St John ambulance officers to attend an emergency on the Queenstown jetty after New Year's Eve celebrations. Photo by James Beech.
Perceptions of Queenstown being a town full of ''drunken
violence'' may be wide of the mark. However, there is no
denying there are issues with alcohol and violence in the
resort - just as there are the length and breadth of
New Zealand. Otago Daily Times Queenstown bureau chief
Tracey Roxburgh talks to Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van
Uden about the resort's set of unique issues and what can be
It is a Saturday
night in Queenstown and the CBD is humming.
Bars are packed with residents and visitors - some out for a
''couple of quiets'', others out for a ''massive night''.
The streets, too, are busy - some people on their way to
another bar, some on their way home and, inevitably, some
arguing their sobriety with door staff who refuse them entry.
While most will admit - eventually - they have had one too
many and should probably call it a night, heading to the
nearest food outlet and stocking up before making their way
home, others will make the wrong decisions, the sort that
sees them facing assault or disorderly behaviour charges and
appearing in the Queenstown District Court on a Monday
Decisions that could see them end up in prison, or confined
to their homes; the fight - that seemed entirely justified at
the time, but which they have no recollection of the morning
after - which had life-altering consequences for the person
they took their booze-fuelled aggression out on and that
It is, in every respect, a typical Saturday night in
Queenstown - and the scenario could be applied to any town or
city the length and breadth of this country.
However, headlines about alcohol-fuelled violence in the
resort seem common.
Stories about defendants - often male, often from overseas -
who are described as ''highly intoxicated'' by their lawyers
and can offer ''no excuse'' for their behaviour because they
have no recollection of the incident, who are ''embarrassed
and remorseful'' and this type of behaviour is ''completely
out of character'' occupy the court pages every week.
The leader of Queenstown Lakes, Mayor Vanessa van Uden, says
as a community it is time to clean up our act.
"It is time we stopped condoning drinking to excess and it is
time we started looking out for each other.''
"I think the drinking problem is our attitude to alcohol,
[people who say] 'we're having a big night out'.''
"I'm not saying you shouldn't have a good night out, but just
look at how people's attitude to smoking has changed - it is
been made socially unacceptable to smoke.''
"I don't think we need to make it socially unacceptable to
drink, but what we have to do is make it socially
unacceptable to be completely off your face.''
"How you behave between two and three [drinks] and 15 is
never going to be different.
"You go into it knowing what the outcome is going to be.
"You're making the choice.''
However, the community as a whole had a responsibility to
protect others - and the police, licensees and patrons all
shared the load, she said.
''I'd like to think we [the council] have got a good working
relationship with the police.''
The majority of our licensees ... they're doing a good job
and want to do a good job.''
The people that choose not to be responsible and [not] accept
their responsibility, we need to deal with them and work with
It is not as if the council has washed its hands of the issue
or put it in the ''too hard'' basket.
In fact, it is been proactive and for several years has
worked with licensees, the police and others to keep people
safe, while ensuring they enjoyed their Queenstown after-dark
Recently, the council conducted an informal, online,
anonymous alcohol survey, which will help its decision as to
whether or not the district needs to adopt a local alcohol
policy, and if so, what form it will take.
Options on the table include a one-way door policy and
earlier closing times.
In Wanaka, the council is trialling an ''out of one, out of
all'' system, where patrons refused from one bar are unable
to enter any others in the town.
The introduction of ''Mellow Yellow'' in Queenstown about 18
months ago, kitting out all door staff and community guides
in high-vis yellow vests, giving the impression of an
increased security presence across the resort, had worked to
However, the issue of violence in the resort is not easily
Part of the problem is getting intoxicated patrons off the
''They're out of bars [or] bars are shut and they're hanging
around the streets. The thing we quite often find is drunk
people are often in the position of being aggressive and
violent,'' Ms van Uden said.
The other issue was ''the messaging''. Tourists who came to
Queenstown, both domestic and international, had fewer
Combined with too much alcohol and a ''what goes on tour''
attitude, the consequences were often a visit to the
Queenstown police station, a night's accommodation in the
cells and an appearance before a district court judge, who
has tired of hearing the same stories week after week.
''There are issues with alcohol the length and breadth of
this country - and not just this country,'' Ms van Uden said.
''I don't think for one second we can hide our head in the
sand and say things don't happen here. They do.
''The headlines about violence need to be balanced with the
fact there are 28,000 people in this district.''
''But we have some special cases here ... it's the nature of
''There is something about the messaging - come here for a
good time, but respect that this is our home.''
Booze Control: Stop and Think
For most of us, the season for eating and drinking to excess
is over for another year.
But for some, there will still be court cases to deal with.
The violence, the misdemeanours, the stupidity of the night
will be carefully transcribed into legal jargon and laid out
for judge or jury.
Often, those charged will bring another offender into the
dock: Alcohol will be asked the share the blame.
The fuel to our fun-filled nights always gets a bad rap
during the anguish of the day after.
New measures to curb its influence were introduced by the
Government and local councils. The debate continues over
whether they are too little or too restrictive.
The Otago Daily Times today introduces a series -
''Booze control: Stop and Think'' - which highlights the
issues facing communities and poses questions about our
drinking culture and the associated harm and violence.
Judge Kevin Phillips highlighted the issue in the Queenstown
District Court late last year. His comments included an
appeal to the community: ''We have ongoing violence in bars
in Queenstown ... every weekend serious violence. When are we
going to stop condoning it?''
Otago Daily Times reporters have been taking stock of the
place alcohol has in Otago society - beginning with
A study last year revealed staff at the resort's hospital at
Frankton saw 470 alcohol-affected patients in one 10-month
period - more than 10 a week, on average.
Just how safe is it to walk the streets of the country's
number one tourist resort and the country's foremost ''party
Monday: Queenstown police say it is time we started
taking better care of our mates.
Tuesday: QLDC's moves to create a safer environment.
Wednesday: Medical community calls for more
Thursday: Why education programmes are not the answer.
Saturday: University of Otago stands up.