The cold, naked truth about nightlife

I hit party town Queenstown at 12.30am - alone and sober.

A colleague had questioned the sense in this.

Would I be safe?

At the top of the hill, at the entrance to town, I pass blue and red flashing lights.

A police car is stopped behind a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

I count another three police cars - cruising.

And more flashing blue and red lights behind another car.

Even stone cold sober and fully registered and warranted, I feel walking would be less stressful.

It would also reduce the likelihood of hitting an unsteady jaywalker.

The idea is to produce a first-hand account of ''the troubles''.

Readers of the Otago Daily Times court news will be familiar with the weekly dossier of antisocial behaviour coming out of Queenstown.

You can talk about it, you can write about it, but what is it like, in the thick of it?I park between two nightclubs.

On the left are 20 or 30 young people smoking and joking. On the right, pretty much the same.

From my perspective, they could be high school pupils in mufti waiting for the school bus.

They are in high spirits but not obviously drunk.

And, more importantly, non-threatening.

I walk the lake shore. The night is warm, calm and sparkly.

There is the smell of honeysuckle, gumtree and woodsmoke from the pizza ovens.

There is the lap of the lake against the boats and there is the roar from the mall where a group of young people hang around outside the bars and nightclubs.

They are boisterous, but no-one is drinking.

A man urinates outside the shop opposite the police station.

Another leaves a trail of vomit through the gardens - evidently one chip too many.

Three men urinate on the gravel of the lakeshore.

''No. Not in the lake,'' one commands.

A newly qualified young male nurse on a stag-do rolls a cigarette and tells me about the violence that he says ruins Nelson's night life.

''I love this place,'' he slurs, waving his arm.

''The whole South Island should be like Queenstown.

''Where else can you sit on a beach with a couple of mates, next to a lake with a bottle of whisky and be just a few steps from town.''

There are almost no cars. It is a while since I have seen a police officer.

I lean on the warm stone wall near the town's main wharf and gaze out into the darkness over the lake.

It is 1.30am in party town and I'm bored.

But then, clutching a notebook containing nothing much to write about, my night took a turn.

I could see a young man, on his own, staggering towards the end of the wharf - well away from the mall and the crowds.

I observed no-one else anywhere near and concluded no-one else could see the young man.

He stopped on the edge of the jetty and on the edge of the light and swayed.

He took his clothes off.

He was wearing boxers.

Then, in one smooth movement he stepped from his boxers and dived into the lake - pale and unco-ordinated.

He set out for Glenorchy and I began to reach for my cellphone.

But then, he turned and splashed his way back to the wharf and grabbed a handhold well above his head.

On his first attempt, he almost managed to haul himself out of the water.

His second, third and fourth attempts were more feeble.

He got a foot up but his head was underwater.

He was tiring.

Then he disappeared from sight, underneath the wharf.

I had hesitated too long over the phone call.

And now he was my problem rather than the police's.

I ran.

I reached the edge of the jetty and looked over.

I could see eight white fingers on a plank, but nothing more of him.

I grabbed his wrist and he grabbed mine.

But he was too slippery and too heavy and too drunk to be helped.

I let go and the hands disappeared.

I dashed towards the mall; to a group of young men.

It took them just seconds to grasp the situation and they set out for the wharf.

I drove out of Queenstown a few hours later after the crowds outside nightclubs had become crowds outside takeaway bars and then begun to dissolve away.

My visit to the country's foremost tourist resort had left me with two souvenirs.

One was the memory of eight white fingers clinging to a wooden plank on the edge of a wharf in the darkness.

And then there was the sound of the feet of half a dozen athletic young men pounding their way across the planks to help a stranger.

The moral of the story? Well, a pretty obvious one would be not to drink and swim.

But the other might be that a newspaper can provide only part of the picture of a town and the part I experienced bore no resemblance to the one portrayed in the weekly court news.

The closest I came to a physical confrontation was having to respond, not infrequently, to young men offering a ''high five''.

As for that second souvenir I took away with me: It was the memory of six young men falling about with laughter when they realised the wet, cold Austrian they had hauled out of the lake was stark naked.