Wanaka’s hospitality sector could face challenges handling New Year revellers after the cancellation of official events and the added complication of managing vaccination passes.
The Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) announced last week it would not stage its traditional lakefront event on January 31.
That places the onus to entertain those ringing in 2022 on the town’s hospitality businesses, which are already grappling with the Covid-19 traffic light system.
QLDC deputy mayor Calum MacLeod said “hope springs eternal” for Wanaka celebrations to go without a hitch, but there was the looming spectre of Covid-19 and all its variants combined with how the traffic light system worked.
“It’s [the system is] such a moving feast, it’s hard to pin it down . . . it’s a space we’ve never been in before.”
The fact Rhythm & Alps was still going ahead meant the over 18s “had something to go to”, he said.
That left the under-agers who have caused problems in the resort town at New Year in the past and large congregations at areas such as the Wanaka Skatepark.
Mr MacLeod said whether or not that would happen again this year was hard to predict.
Last New Year’s Eve, police said underage drinking in the town was “prolific” and the alcohol appeared to have been supplied by parents.
Police warned parents and caregivers they could face fines of up to $2000 if they supplied alcohol to underage teenagers.
Wanaka Community Board chairman Barry Bruce said the hospitality sector would do its best to work within the guidelines and said he had a lot of faith in the various agencies that worked with police to ensure celebrations went smoothly.
QLDC councillor assigned to the Wanaka Alcohol Group Niamh Shaw said the council had made the difficult decision not to plan and co-ordinate Christmas and New Year events in Queenstown and Wanaka, including the fireworks displays.
The council would still be supporting the police, the Red Frogs and providing additional toilet facilities over this time.
“The fireworks at the lakeside is something of a tradition for many local and visiting families – including my own – and I’m sure it will be sorely missed.
“The police and Red Frogs have indicated that live music and other events, in addition to providing entertainment, are useful distractions for people congregating in large crowds and where alcohol or drug use may be prevalent – in other words, events help with crowd control.”
With that came an uncomfortable tension between laying on open events which draw crowds, and the increased risk in keeping people safe and secure, she said.
“Council has taken on more and more responsibility around the Christmas and New Year events, and I think this is a good opportunity to consider our input and role in this space.”
She said the council would continue to provide full support to the police in the form of roaming security personnel, and also the “fully epic” St John and Red Frogs.
Red Frogs Otago co-ordinator Ray Thomson said the volunteer organisation’s response had been tweaked in the wake of the new guidelines.
“Red Frogs’ New Year’s response will look different in Wanaka this year due to Covid-19 and the introduction of the new traffic light system.
“We are currently working with QLDC, police and St John as to how we best support patrons during the New Year’s period, but one thing does not change – Red Frogs commitment to keeping young people safe while they are out celebrating.”
Volunteers would be out in force in Wanaka as well as making a return to Queenstown after a break due to Covid-19 last year, he said.