Bags of stories


Airport boss’s suitcase nightmares and Clinton near-calamity.

During 15 years at Queenstown Airport, Darren Rewi has seen some weird and not-so-wonderful things coming in and out of the resort.

As ramp manager for Air New Zealand, he’s in charge of ground operations ranging from refuelling, loading and de-icing planes to baggage handling.

And with up to 800,000 passengers passing through each year and up to 90 tonnes of luggage hauled around every day – there are a few bizarre moments.

“It’s quite amazing what some people think they can take through an airport in their bags,” Rewi says.

“I’ve seen the likes of firearms, petrol chainsaws, drugs, dead animals and dangerous chemicals.”

And with Queenstown being a party destination, airport staff also stumble across their fair share of sex toys inside people’s luggage.

“Not that long ago, a bag burst while being taken off a plane and things like fluffy handcuffs, rubber truncheons and a few other unmentionables were scattered all over the runway,” Rewi explains.

“The young guy who was handling the bags didn’t know where to look and the owner was too embarrassed to pick up the belongings from the carousel inside the terminal building.

“But I did hear there was a discreet inquiry about the stuff a couple of days later and someone had sneaked back to collect it.”

The married dad of six from Frankton also recalls how he nearly scuppered a 1999 visit to Queenstown by then United States President Bill Clinton.

“A few weeks before Clinton was due, the American security services installed a few surveillance aerials on one of our towers,” he says.

“For a laugh, we made one of our own from an old ice-cream container and a coat hanger and put it with the rest of them.

“But on the day of Clinton’s visit, one of his aides reviewed the security measures and found our device.

“He wasn’t happy at all and warned that if no one owned up then the trip would be cancelled.

“Clinton was due to land 40 minutes later and I had to tell him it was just a bit of Kiwi humour.

“Fortunately a liaison officer from the New Zealand Government stepped in and managed to smooth things over.”
Away from his day job, Rewi – who shifted from Invercargill to Queenstown 18 years ago – is also a strong Maori voice in the region.

He’s the iwi rep for the local Primary Health Organisation and holds the same position on the school board at the new Remarkables Primary in Frankton.

Rewi also assists police as a member of the Maori advisory group and conducts numerous traditional blessings and greetings in and around the resort at everything from the opening of major property developments to business conferences.

“My mother was Ngai Tahu and my grandfather was on the board of Ngai Tahu so I’m happy to do these things and help pass on the culture.”

When he’s not doing all that, Rewi is a coach with Queenstown Rovers football club, finding time to get involved four nights a week and also at weekends.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle keeping everything going but the way I see it, it’s a bit like paying social rent,” he says.

“Queenstown has always looked after me and my family and I’m glad to try and give something back.”