A starlit dip into a hot pool took a chilling turn for a pair of foreign tourists near Rotorua when thieves hit one of them over the head, robbed their camper van and tossed their keys into the pool.
The 20-year-old Swiss tourist and his 26-year-old Korean girlfriend's 3am hot pool dip at the Secret Spot hot pool on Waiotapu Loop Road cooled rapidly when a "rowdy and intoxicated" group joined them in the early hours of Wednesday.
The assault, which left the man with a lacerated head, came as the couple tried to leave the hot pool for their camper van.
The pair scrambled back into the pool, also known as Hot and Cold, for their keys and drove to Rotorua Hospital where the man received stitches for his cut and police were called.
Evelyn Forrest of the Ngati Tahu-Ngati Whaoa Rununga Trust, which owns the land, said the hot pool was a well-known trouble spot where empty alcohol bottles were left on a nightly basis. At the weekends there were piles of bottles at the hot pool and vandalism and bush fires had also happened.
"We are considering having gates and locks to close it off to the public at night, we don't want to to do that but it's something that we have to seriously consider," she said. "At three o'clock in the morning it's probably not the safest thing that you could do."
Richard Fulton, of the nearby Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, said the hot pool was popular in the day and targeted by trouble makers at night.
"Personally at 3am it would be off my radar, but I guess there's no accounting for what some people might or might not do. It's one of those areas where there has been a lot of trouble, a lot of vandalism, it's one of those things that nobody likes to think happens in New Zealand."
Rotorua District mayor Kevin Winters was concerned to hear of the robbery and assault on what was a busy tourist spot during the day.
"They should have been safe," he said. "I think this is the first one of these such incidents we have had this year. It's not a good look for Rotorua or New Zealand. Police and visitor information centres are always working to make sure our visitors are safe."
He expected Rotorua to rally around the couple and support them if they made themselves known.
Winters thought the couple must have found the location because it was in the Lonely Planet guide and they must have been freedom camping near the hot pool to be bathing that early.
"Our advice is you need to stay in a holiday park . . . pay a little bit extra and you get safety."
Detective Senior Sergeant Zane Smith, of Rotorua police, said: "I am sure the community of Rotorua is as keen as I am to make sure that these offenders are arrested at the earliest opportunity."
Police are appealing to anyone who knows the identity of the group or the whereabouts of the missing property to contact them on 07 348 0099.
Alternatively information can be provided anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
ATTACKS ON TOURISTS
December, 2011: A five-year-old girl victim of sex attack in a Turangi campground.
August, 2009: Three Chinese tourists robbed at knifepoint by two men in the Far North.
April, 2008: Irishman Robbie O'Brien was attacked by a group of men in Westport because O'Brien spoke with an accent.
March, 2008: A 32-year-old Canadian tourist admitted to hospital in Taupo with a fractured skull.
January, 2008: Scottish backpacker Karen Aim murdered while walking home from a night out in Taupo.