A would-be ''skinny-dipper'' is lucky to be alive, emergency services say, after leaving a wedding reception near Queenstown in darkness and falling about 20m down a sheer cliff.

The woman landed in scrub near the Shotover River and was taken to Southland Hospital by rescue helicopter in early yesterday with a suspected broken pelvis.

Several sources said the woman had been drinking and the wedding venue owner slammed her actions as ''stupid''.

Emergency services said the 45-year-old Queenstown woman, a guest wearing a formal dress, went missing from the reception at wedding venue Trelawn Place, near Arthurs Point, on Saturday night.

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She was found lying in prickly bushes in steep terrain by a group of people, including an off-duty policeman.

Emergency services were called at 10.15pm and a dramatic rescue unfolded over the next three hours.

Fire crews found a walking track to reach the woman and put her on a stretcher, carrying her to an open area near the river.

A Lakes District Air Rescue Trust helicopter from Te Anau landed on the Shotover River bed and flew her to Southland Hospital after 1am.

Queenstown Fire Service Senior Station Officer Dave Christie said the woman was ''very, very lucky to be alive''.

Trelawn Place owner Nery Howard was told the woman had gone to skinny-dip.

She said the woman had ''had too much to drink''.

''[In the] forty-two years I've been here, nobody's ever done anything as stupid as that.''

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Trelawn Place's website boasts of an ''easy access track to our private beach on the river below''.

Mrs Howard said the track's dangers were obvious in the daytime.

''You don't expect people to be going down there at night.''

She said it was lucky the river was low enough to allow the helicopter to land nearby.

Sergeant Keith Newell, of Queenstown, put the fall at ''approximately 20m''.

Access to the woman was difficult, he said.

''It was pitch dark and there were drop-offs. It was going to be more difficult bringing her up without putting everyone else in danger.''