Travellers bring rich pickings to Queenstown Airport

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Travellers have been slapped with fines totalling almost $20,000 for bringing banned goods into Queenstown Airport in the past seven months. 

Fifty people received a warning letter, 17 caught before April 22 got stung $200, while 41 snapped after that date copped a new $400 instant fine. 

They were nabbed bringing un-declared and prohibited fruit, vegetables and animal products through the international terminal. 

Bag searches and X-ray mach­ines are key detection points, but five culprits were sprung by a Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Biosecurity New Zealand sniffer dog team. 

Dunedin-based handler Greg Wilkinson and his three-year-old beagle partner Ulric come to Queenstown on Wednesdays and weekends to check out international arrivals. 

Ulric scouts luggage and passengers for contraband and sits down on the floor when he finds something for Wilkinson to investigate. “As soon as he plants his bum, I start questioning,” Wilkinson, 42, says. 

Forgotten fruit is the most common reason passengers get caught, but Wilkinson’s quirkiest find is a fresh rose in a guitar case, accidently imported by a grandfather. 

Ulric is a recent recruit to the region – Wilkinson’s previous pooch Monty retired last November at the ripe age of nine – and his successor has a lot to live up to, his handler says. 

“Monty stopped at a lady with no luggage and he kept putting his nose to her feet – and squashed under her jandal was a grape.” 

Contrary to common belief, dogs aren’t fed fruit to motivate them, but are kept slightly hungry and rewarded with snacks for finding items potentially damag­ing to the country. 

“All we’re trying to do is prevent pests and diseases entering NZ. Once they get here, it’s hard to eradicate them,” Wilkinson says.