Police are bracing for hundreds of Canterbury University students to defy authorities and converge on Dunedin in a rogue Undie 500 car rally this weekend.
Last year, 69 people were arrested and charged over rioting in Dunedin streets the day after the rally arrived in the city. The year before, 25 of the 56 students arrested for disorderly behaviour over the Undie 500 weekend were from Christchurch.
An anonymous Canterbury University student created a dummy student email address to circulate two emails on Saturday and yesterday, detailing how this year's unsanctioned event will run. Two students intending to go to the event told The Press they expected the controversial rally to be at least as big as those of the last two years.
The anonymous email from the self-styled Undie 500 master said: "There will be drinking, along with theme cars and costumes!"
An entire Dunedin courtroom was set aside to deal with students arrested over last year's rioting. The last of those charged cleared the court system only last week.
This year's event will proceed despite the urging of student and civic leaders, the university and police.
"All the Undie 500 does is cause us a considerable amount of grief," Dunedin and Clutha police area commander Inspector Dave Campbell said.
"It's bad for the city (Dunedin), bad for our reputation and we don't need it."
Police were caught out by events last year and would have a zero tolerance approach to any more trouble, he said.
"We believe we're well-prepared. We certainly have a significant number of staff rostered on this weekend."
The Undie 500 was previously organised by the Canterbury University Engineering Students' Society (Ensoc).
Since 1989, students have bought cars valued under $500, decorated them to a theme and driven to Dunedin, stopping at designated pubs along the way.
Ensoc and the University of Canterbury Students' Association (UCSA) tried to organise another event this year but gave up when Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin refused to support their proposals.
In July, when Ensoc president Graeme Walker formally withdrew support for the event, he warned that an alternative event would go ahead regardless.
Yesterday, Walker said he did not know who was behind the alternative event and did not support it. "We have been working really hard this year to protect the Undie 500 name and we don't want to compromise that at all," Walker said. "This individual has basically organised the event themselves."
UCSA president Michael Goldstein said he did not want to talk about the event "because we don't want any publicity given to it".
"It's still our students and we're trying to make sure they don't go down," Goldstein said.
Two first-year students living at Christchurch's University Hall said they were not worried by the lack of support from student leaders.
"People have just said since this was cancelled, everyone will still go," Alex Crossan, 18, said.
"There is still a group organising it who knows who it is?"
There were five or six cars with around 30 students from their hall of residence going, Crossan said. He expected hundreds more from the university's five other halls as well as student flats to go on the rally.
Crossan and Alan Fallon, 19, said they had taken advantage of a special on 24 packs of beer and bought four boxes to drink between the four passengers on their way to Dunedin.
They had a designated driver who would not be drinking, they said.
"We don't really know what to expect," Fallon said.
He said Otago University students were finishing exams this weekend "so they will be having big parties".
Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin said the event was not welcome, but the Dunedin City Council was powerless to stop it.
"If students want to put their future careers at risk by indulging in something like this ... then that's their choice," Chin said.
"If they conduct themselves in a way that is unlawful, then the police are ready," he said.
A spokesman for Canterbury University said the university did not support the unofficial event.
"We deplore any anti-social and illegal behaviour, and would like to remind students of the consequences this can have in their personal and professional lives," the spokesman said.
Director of Student Services at Otago University David Richardson said the university would respond to any situation as appropriate at the time.
"Whatever the situation, the safety and wellbeing of students and staff are paramount," Richardson said.
Meanwhile, the Students Against Driving Drunk (SADD) group will hold its national street appeal across the country on Friday, the day the rally begins. SADD regional co-ordinator Jessica Stringer hoped the students would use sober drivers. "We hope the students in the Undie 500 will be responsible in the decisions they make."
- The Press