Heartless thief mars tourists' stay

DISTRAUGHT: French tourists Carline Chenard, left, and Clemence Montil had possessions stolen from their van at Rabbit Island.
DISTRAUGHT: French tourists Carline Chenard, left, and Clemence Montil had possessions stolen from their van at Rabbit Island.

A dream campervan holiday for two young French women is in tatters after an opportunistic thief broke into their van at Rabbit Island and took their valuables - and their story is likely to be read across France.

Carline Chenard and Clemence Montil, both 23, lost their passports, cash, bank cards and cameras on Friday afternoon when someone smashed the side window of the small campervan and removed their daypacks from under a blanket on the floor.

They had arrived in Nelson the day before and had been looking forward to writing all about their visit on the French traveller website Frogs-in-NZ, which has organised the van for five months in return for their reports.

Now they're staying with Stoke couple Cindy and Russell Holden while they try to sort out their money and get replacement passports.

It's a crime that has particularly disappointed Senior Constable Glyn Cunningham of Richmond police.

"They came to the station in Richmond, pretty much in tears and quite distraught - they didn't know where to go or what to do," he said.

"I was embarrassed for New Zealand and Kiwis. I was pretty hot under the collar about it."

Mr Cunningham said this kind of criminal often just took valuables and discarded the rest, so he is hoping that publicity might help recover some of the stolen things.

"Their backpacks with their passports might be lying under a bush on Rabbit Island."

Ms Chenard said the pair, from Clermont-Ferrand, had been travelling around New Zealand for four months and had been looking forward to their Nelson stay.

"We were very happy to be here, a lot of people had told us it is a very nice place and we wanted to stay here for two weeks."

She said that in the early part of the trip they had been careful about always keeping their day packs with them.

"But we saw that people were very friendly, and we didn't imagine this could happen."

They've lost about $1000 worth of possessions and have only vehicle and health insurance, but the bigger problem is getting access to their bank accounts, and new passports from the French embassy in Wellington.

She said they were very grateful for the help they've been receiving and in spite of the theft, "We love this country.

"We just drive for 30 minutes and the landscape changes. It's very beautiful and you are very lucky to live here."

They have six weeks to go before flying home and intend to have a good look at Nelson and visit the Abel Tasman National Park before moving on.

Ms Holden said she and her husband had learned of the women's plight through Victim Support and were happy to help.

"If our children were overseas, we'd want people to be doing that for them. They are very nice girls and that's the shame of it. They were very traumatised by what happened. They're writing a blog about New Zealand and unfortunately for us, that's been their experience."

The Nelson Mail