Fearful tourist on way home after ordeal

UNHAPPY NEW YEAR: The injuries Michaela suffered when she was attacked with a bottle by a stranger in Napier on New Year’s Eve.
UNHAPPY NEW YEAR: The injuries Michaela suffered when she was attacked with a bottle by a stranger in Napier on New Year’s Eve.

A Czech tourist is heading home, saying she is afraid of New Zealand men after she was bottled by a drunk stranger while celebrating New Year's Eve in Napier.

Two foreign hitch-hikers were attacked on the West Coast last weekend.

While the women, who suffered stab wounds and broken bones, are vowing to continue travelling, the Czech tourist wants people to know that "some places" are not safe for tourists.

Michaela left her friends and her job because she no longer felt safe in Napier. She is returning home to seek professional help to overcome her fear.

"Honestly I feel that I am not safe. I am afraid of men and darkness. I have never felt [these] feelings."

But Associate Minister of Tourism Todd McClay said yesterday that New Zealand was still one of the safest countries to visit. These incidents were "abhorrent" but "fairly rare", he said.

More than 2.7 million overseas tourists visited our shores last year.

"The vast majority of people that come here encounter hospitality and leave having a wonderful experience."

McClay said travellers needed to make sensible decisions and avoid vulnerable situations. Hitch-hiking was "without doubt riskier", especially for women, than other means of transport.

New Zealand Tourism Research Institute director Simon Milne said that incidents such as the West Coast attacks had deeply shocked people, which was why communities often rallied around the victims.

Hitch-hikers Michaela Brandl, 28, and Niki Honda, 27, had been inundated with cards, gifts and donations since being found seriously injured at Franz Josef.

The pair were discharged from Christchurch Hospital yesterday to the news that $14,035 had been raised on their behalf by New Zealanders.

"Thank you New Zealand for all the love and support," Honda said. "The letters and flowers we received at the hospital helped get us through the first intensive days.

"Sometimes all of this feels like a dream, a long dream I can't wake up from. Still, life goes on . . . It won't be always easy, but I don't want to forget who I am. I want to smile like I always did.

"I would like to thank especially my new friend Michaela, the bravest woman I've ever met.

"I don't know what would have happened to me without her, and she has given me the greatest support to get through this."

Last month a judge apologised to a young French couple who were attacked with a pistol while in Napier.

Judge Jonathan Down said the community was "embarrassed and ashamed" of what had happened to them.

The woman charged with the assault walked free after the judge ruled the evidence was too weak.

Michaela said she wanted to share her story after a "disappointing" result in court.

Cajun Jet Waikato, 26, was convicted in the Napier District Court last month of injuring with intent. He was sentenced to six months' community detention and 12 months' supervision and ordered to pay Michaela $1000.

She said her attacker's punishment was "unfair" because of what she had to go through.

Michaela had been celebrating New Year at a friend's house when she went out on to the street to ring her family in the Czech Republic.

While she was wishing them a happy New Year a man started yelling at her. She ignored him but was struck by a beer bottle.

The Dominion Post