July 3, 2008

Winterfest With a Hangover Twist

By HINE, Will in Queenstown

UEENSTOWN'S biggest party of the year has come with a hangover, with 18 people arrested for drink-driving during the opening days of Winterfestival.

Sergeant Bruce Martin, of the Rural Drink Drive Squad, said his team tested 2605 drivers at checkpoints on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and nabbed 16 people who were over the limit.

He described the haul as "very disappointing" and said police would expect fewer than 10 offenders in an enforcement operation of this scale.

Intoxicated drivers, who were an even split of tourists and Wakatipu residents, recorded breath alcohol levels of between 400mcg and 1149mcg, Mr Martin said.

Festival-goers could expect rigid enforcement through the rest of the week, with the booze bus stationed in the resort for the duration of festivities.

"If you've been out drinking and are in any doubt, catch a cab. It's just not worth taking the risk," Mr Martin said.

Sergeant Kate Piravano said police were also kept busy with alcohol-related offending such as disorderly behaviour, assault and wilful damage.

No one had yet been arrested for breaching the temporary alcohol ban, she said.

Offending aside, the Winterfestival has so far got off to a positive start, with no events cancelled because of the weather, unlike last year when a snow blizzard hit the resort.

Friday night was the official opening of the festival and Earnslaw Park was filled with hundreds of people as the festival was ushered in with live music and a display of fireworks.

A parade through the town was the feature event on Saturday and was well received despite drizzly, cool weather.

Floats, featuring everything from suspended bungy-jumpers to musical firefighters, entertained the crowds who sheltered in shop doorways from the rain.

Yesterday was another crowdpleaser, with the favourite Birdman competition drawing crowds to Queenstown Bay.

The winning team, from Shotover Jet, wowed the crowd with a short striptease and dance before lighting a red flare on top of its boat.

Red haze drifted across the water as the three-man team jumped, dropped and splashed, to the applause of the crowd. Rival Kawarau Jet later got its own back, winning the celebrity jetboat race with pro snowboarder Hayley Holt helping it to victory.

The festival continues today with a teddy bears' picnic this morning and the American Express Great Comedy Debate tonight.

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