Australia’s infamous “schoolies” are swapping their booze-drenched Gold Coast playground for the adventure buzz of Queenstown.
Annual plans to bring in groups of party-loving Aussie school-leavers in November and December for week-long breaks are underway, Mountain Scene can reveal.
The wild antics of tens of thousands of teens who descend on Queensland beaches for an annual knees-up attract a lot of negative media coverage.
This year’s Schoolies Week – at the main Surfers Paradise hub on the Gold Coast – resulted in 145 people arrested for disorderly conduct or public nuisance offences. Police also issued a whopping 571 tickets to youngsters for drinking alcohol in a public place.
The bad rap is leading many schoolies to look elsewhere for their kicks – and lively Queenstown is top of the list, according to Barron Hanson, boss of Melbourne-based tour operators I Like to Party.
Hanson’s firm is offering `schoolies-only’ flight and land/accommodation packages to Queenstown for under $2000.
“We’ve seen the changing nature of Schoolies Week because of the years and years of bad publicity,” Hanson says.
“It’s all about how many kids get busted and how much alcohol-fuelled violence there is, and people don’t want to be involved with that anymore.”
Hanson claims his tour combos are generating “a lot of interest” and will focus on the adventure activities in Queenstown rather than pushing the resort’s party town reputation and late-night bars.
“We haven’t tried to market the bar aspect of Queenstown at all and we’ll have tour guides who’ll steer the schoolies in the right direction,” Hanson says.
“They’ll help organise all the adventure stuff like bungy jumping and skydiving, and also act as a bit of a mentor.”
Hanson adds: “We don’t want anyone coming over to Queenstown, causing trouble and putting a bad name on our company either. It is in our interests to control that.”
Tony Everitt, boss of the resort’s promotions body Destination Queenstown says approaches have been made by “at least two” Aussie travel agents wanting to bring plane-loads of schoolies across the ditch.
“They are looking to put together different packages for these young people that are very much focussed on responsible tourism,” Everitt says.
“Young people thrive on a lot of exercise and fresh air and fortunately we’ve got lots of that in Queenstown.
“I think the intention is to focus on healthy daytime activities so [the schoolies] will sleep well at night.”
Queenstown police also confirm approaches by two Aussie tour companies eager to bring the schoolies over.
“We are open-minded about groups of these youngsters arriving in the resort,” senior intelligence analyst Sean Drader says.
“But you have to ask yourself if they are coming here because they’re being excluded from other places.
“The travel agents are promoting themselves as being sensible but there is only so much control you can have over people, especially after they’ve had a few drinks.
“I’ll be interested in what these travel agents can show us in terms of preventative measures.”
Drader adds: “I used to be a policeman in Australia and went to school there too, so I have a fair idea what the schoolies get up to.”