Tobacco, drugs seized at Queenstown airport

Baggage is checked at New Zealand airports with an X-ray machine such as this one. Photo: Supplied
Baggage is checked at New Zealand airports with an X-ray machine such as this one. Photo: Supplied
Queenstown has cemented its place as Otago’s capital of tobacco and illicit drug seizures from international arrivals.

Data supplied by the New Zealand Customs Service show there have been 44 seizures of cannabis, methamphetamine, cocaine or excess tobacco at Queenstown Airport since 2015, compared with just one at Dunedin Airport over the same period.

The data covers drugs discovered on those arriving, or in their baggage, at Dunedin or Queenstown Airport, and does not include drug seizures from domestic passengers.

Since the start of 2015, there have been 26 seizures of tobacco more than the limit of 50 cigarettes or 50g of loose tobacco or cigars, all but one of which occurred at Queenstown Airport. The biggest haul was in April this year, when 1280 cigarettes were seized by Customs officers in Queenstown.

In the past three and a-half years there were 15 seizures of cannabis from international arrivals in Otago, all at Queenstown Airport. Most of the marijuana identified was in quantities under 10g, though 150g of seeds were found late in 2015.

Cocaine has also been seized three times from international arrivals in Otago in recent years.

All three seizures occurred at Queenstown Airport since 2017, the largest of which was 5g of powder at the beginning of last year.

The sole seizure of methamphetamine from international arrivals in Otago was at Queenstown Airport in 2015, when 0.1g of powder was identified.

Otago-Lakes Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) head Detective Senior Sergeant Malcolm Inglis, of Queenstown, said cocaine use was steadily rising in the resort town, while the amount of methamphetamine-related activity in Otago-Lakes had spiked in the past six to 12 months.

Police data shows the number of offenders dealt with by police for amphetamine or methamphetamine in the Southern district had more than doubled in the past three years. In the 12 months ending in May this year, there were 44 police proceedings against offenders for amphetamine/methamphetamine offences, compared with 21 in the year to May 2016.

Det Snr Sgt Inglis said the three seizures of small amounts of cocaine at Queenstown Airport since 2017 reflected rising cocaine use across the ditch.

The Otago-Lakes CIB was focused on tackling methamphetamine in the area, mainly through targeting dealers, he said.

"Everyone should be trying to target that drug."

While the dire effects on users were well-documented, police were also concerned at the young people who were risking their future dealing class-A drugs such as methamphetamine, Det Snr Sgt Inglis said. Even low-level supply of under 5g of methamphetamine could earn a dealer two to four years’ jail, according to court sentencing guidelines.

"They’re just risking so much.

"Many of them could be good citizens."


I cannot help but think that the figures in this article are pretty much to be expected given the difference in international flights at Queenstown airport compared to Dunedin airport. Dunedin has 3(?) international flights a week to Brisbane while in the Winter peak season Queenstown has 2 flights daily to Brisbane, 4 daily flights to Sydney and 2 daily flights to Melbourne. This is 57 flights a week from Queenstown.

Were the drugs and other customs seizures to occur at precisely the same rate between airports then it follows that Queenstown should see 19 times the number of seizures as Dunedin airport. This does, however, make the assumption that international passenger numbers are equivalent for flights to/from each destination.

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