The savage attack on two young German freedom campers has highlighted the risks of an increasingly restricted activity.
The teenage couple had camped at a Whakatane skatepark, in an area not designated for freedom camping. They were awoken early on Boxing Day and beaten and robbed by several attackers said to have been using wooden bats.
The young woman, 18, suffered a gash in her forehead, and her boyfriend, 19, had his teeth broken.
Three males aged 14, 17 and 18, and a girl, 15, have been charged with aggravated robbery. Two appeared in the Whakatane District Court, while the 14-year-old and the girl appeared in the Youth Court. All will reappear next week. The identities of all four have been suppressed. Police said they were still looking for a fifth youth believed to have been involved in the incident.
They said the German couple had managed to get away from their assailants and sought help at a nearby house, while another person heard their screams and phoned police.
Last night, both tourists were in Whakatane Hospital in a stable condition, recovering from fractures and cuts. Both had spoken directly to family in Europe.
Whakatane police have had so many offers of help for the pair that they have asked people to stop phoning the station.
An email address has been set up to divert the overwhelming number of calls offering donations and accommodation. Those wanting to send a message or offer of support had been asked to use email@example.com.
Police said yesterday they had recovered weapons believed to have been used in the attack, but would not confirm whether wooden bats were used.
After the attack, Tourism New Zealand recommended against freedom camping, advising visitors to stay in controlled camping grounds.
Tourism industry observers noted such attacks were rare, but tourists camping in remote spots have in the past fallen prey to opportunistic violence.
Three French tourists who parked overnight in an isolated rest area near Kaitaia in 2010 were awoken by attackers who beat and robbed them.
In 2006, a Dutchwoman was raped at gunpoint near Paihia while on her honeymoon.
She and her husband were sleeping in a campervan in a secluded car park near a waterfall when a pair posing as policemen knocked on the window and then attacked them.
Motor Caravan Association general manager Bruce Lochore said the latest incident was a blow to the country's tourism reputation, but emphasised most people camped without any problems.
"I think New Zealand is pretty safe and, as for this incident and the people who attacked those young people, I hope they [the courts] come down hard on them.
"I feel for those tourists and I feel for Whakatane, too, actually, it's a really welcoming place."
- © Fairfax NZ News