Press Release – Queenstown Lakes District Council
A loosely organised boating and drinking party on Ruby Island in Lake Wanaka yesterday (Thursday) could have resulted in drownings or injury if the QLDC harbourmaster team hadn’t learned of the event by chance and mustered resources to assist.
Deputy Mayor and Wanaka Councillor Calum MacLeod said that from what he saw, up to 500 young people had been encouraged to paddle across to Ruby Island, generally in flimsy inflatable boats and with large amounts of alcohol, to drink on the beach. While organisers insisted that everyone who took part had to wear a lifejacket, no-one was enforcing the rule when people began the return trip later in the afternoon and no-one was keeping count of participants to make sure that everyone got back safely.
Cr MacLeod said he hitched a ride to the island with the harbourmaster, and was less than impressed by what he saw.
“Things would have gone horribly wrong if the wind had got up,” Cr MacLeod said. “It was the classic bad combination of alcohol and boating. Some people were too drunk to make it back on their own and if the harbourmaster’s team and the coastguard hadn’t been there, some of them would have come to grief.”
One man was pulled from the water with his lifejacket draped over his arm because he had been incapable of putting it on, and he told his rescuers that he couldn’t swim. Others who appeared to be heavily intoxicated were turned back as they attempted to paddle to shore, and told to wait for a ride with the coastguard.
“We don’t want to be the Grinch but this had all the elements for trouble on a large scale, with the emphasis on going out on the lake in small boats and drinking. If you get pissed and fall down at a land based event you just end up looking like an idiot however if you get pissed and fall out of a small inflatable boat you could die.”
He said Ruby Island was not the right place for that sort of event and if the organisers had approached with the Council first to get a resource consent, which is what they should have done, they would have found that out. “There is one long-drop toilet, they hadn’t made any provision for food and water, or first aid. And they effectively shut out all the rest of the people who might have wanted to go over to the island yesterday.”
When the scale of the event became apparent in the early afternoon, the local harbourmaster contacted the police, who in turn called in the Wanaka coastguard to help get everyone off the island and back to shore safely.
A fire had been lit on the island in breach of the restricted fire season, and the harbourmaster had to ferry members of the volunteer fire brigade across to the island to make sure it was completely extinguished.
Cr MacLeod said he had been told that the event had been run before, on a smaller scale. In his view, if it was to happen again next summer it would have to be done very differently.