An experienced police officer who witnessed a well-known local die in a horror double-fatal crash is urging holiday-makers to pause and plan their journeys.

Senior constable Les Andrew has spoken out about the crash, and its aftermath, of July 3 last year that he witnessed after attending what appeared to be a minor traffic incident.

The 55-year-old, who joined the police in 1990, had been on-call but coaching schoolboy basketball in Twizel when a call came through that foggy winter's day.

Several members of the public had phoned police about the erratic driving of a silver Toyota Highlander, crossing the centre line on State Highway 8, the main road through the South Island to the Queenstown Lakes District.


Andrews headed out and eventually found the Highlander nudged against a farm fence in a driveway to a paddock on the road heading to Tekapo.

The car was still running and Andrews soon suspected the two men inside were intoxicated.

He breathalysed the driver which detected alcohol.

"It was then things started to go wrong," Andrew said. He wanted to snatch their car keys but the car was still in gear and the door was locked.

"They started to arc up and I knew I needed to get some back-up on the way."

As Andrew went to his patrol car to call for help, the SUV drove towards him, veered off, and drove away.

By the time Andrew swung onto the road after them, about six cars had travelled past and were between him and the fleeing Highlander.

"When I caught up, it was then I saw their car doing a cartwheel in the air," he said.

Andrew came around the corner and saw a "smashed up" small truck on the side of the road, near Lake Pukaki.

He immediately recognised the vehicle as belonging to local Twizel man and Mackenzie Gun Club president Nigel Freeman.

"Nigel was a good old bugger. He'd done a lot for the community and been in the area for a long, long time," he said.

Another car had also been involved in the pile-up.

Andrew raced to Freeman's truck fearing the worst. He immediately saw he was dead.

He then went to the other car and found the driver, 46-year-old Australian Stephen John Hayden dead and his passenger seriously injured.

In Andrews' 26 years in the police, it was "one of the worst scenes that I've seen".

"It was a different beast to what you normally do," he said.

"When you go to a fatal, you normally process what you need to do and who to contact and put a few scenarios in your head. But when you're involved in it… emotionally you're not quite as prepared, and obviously things affect you a bit more."

Local volunteer firefighters arrived at the scene, and many of them also knew Freeman.

Colleagues took over from Andrew who struggled to deal with what he had witnessed.

He took six weeks off work and sought counselling.

"It shows just how devastating these things can be, not just affecting the families but the people who have to deal with those situations at the time," Andrew said.

At the time, Andrew was surprised how it affected him, especially having dealt with some horrific crash scenes and sights on Mt Cook/Aoraki rescues or recoveries over the years.

"It wouldn't be that incident that puts you over the top, but the build up to it that happens over years and years. It gets to you after a while," he said.

"The emotional stuff, you have to talk about it. But you keep on doing what you have to do and get round it, you know?"

Police are still investigating the case.

Last year's road toll was 380 deaths, making it the worst since 2009, when 384 were killed, according to Ministry of Transport figures. In 2016, 327 people died on New Zealand roads.

Andrew urges travelers over the busy holiday season to plan their journeys before they set out.

"There's so much traffic out there," he said.

"As Kiwis, we want to get from A to B. But those days are gone. You really have to have stops, take your time. Relax and make it an enjoyable drive. Don't be on that mission, don't get frustrated or anxious, you'll still get there at the end of the day and that's all we want."