John Weekes is an NZME News Service reporter based in Wellington.

Kava is king of Kiwi contraband

Kava plays an important part in traditional ceremonies.
Photo / Doug Sherring
Kava plays an important part in traditional ceremonies. Photo / Doug Sherring

New Zealand's dodgy exports aren't just young, money-hungry workers. Drugs, sex medicines, air guns, steroids and cigarettes are all big exports - but new figures show kava is the king of Kiwi contraband.

Australian Customs documents reveal that seizures of illicit cargo from New Zealand were dominated by the Pacific plant used to brew the popular social drink kava.

More than 350kg of kava products were intercepted last year from the international post and from passengers arriving in Australia from New Zealand. The largest single seizure was a 42.3kg haul from a passenger arriving by plane.

Passengers arriving in Australia are banned from importing more than 2kg of kava powder at a time. The Australian Government has concerns about the health effects of kava, including liver damage, especially in Aboriginal communities. But authorities also recognised kava's role in traditional ceremonies, so allowed smaller packages.

The outlawed erectile dysfunction drug Yohimbine was another big catch for Aussie authorities. Almost 6kg of the substance was found last year, with opiates, methamphetamine precursors and steroids close behind. At least $107,000 of amphetamine smuggled from New Zealand was also intercepted, Australian authorities told the Herald on Sunday.

Former drug squad detective Dale Kirk said New Zealand was often used as a halfway point for drug traffickers, especially those sending cocaine from South America to Australia. Total drug seizures, including banned medicines, approached half a tonne, with the average shipment weighing 1.4kg. Most were concealed in mail packages.

Meanwhile, Aussie smokers missed out on 36,0000 confiscated cigarettes when 72 separate shipments failed to escape detection.

Australian authorities also released information on intercepted weapons. Most seized firearms were air guns. Hand-held laser pointers were popular gifts too. The weapons category includes laser pointers, which are prohibited items in Australia if they exceed one watt.

An Australian Customs and Border Protection Service spokesperson said laser pointers accounted for more than half the weapons seized.

- Herald on Sunday

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