After an "epic" long weekend in Queenstown, Rire Norman didn't expect to return after five days to an empty car parking space.
Someone had stolen the 34-year-old's "pride and joy", a 1992 manual, diesel Toyota Hilux Surf.
And Ms Norman is not alone. She's one of 12 travellers who have returned from trips over the last two weeks to find their car stolen from Memorial Ave and Russley Rd. Many were parked there to avoid the expense of parking at Christchurch Airport.
"I was told it was safe and people leave their cars there all the time," said Ms Norman - a freelance public relations advisor and DJ. "There are cars parked bumper to bumper. Just before I left for Queenstown on February 7, I spent the last $2000 I had on repairs, registration and a warrant of fitness. It was an expense I couldn't really afford but it had to be done. I came back last Tuesday to find it gone.
"My world caved in. I was so upset. It was one of the few assets I owned," she said.
Star inquiries revealed yesterday it would cost commuters $75 to park in the airport's long term carpark for a week and $25 per day thereafter; $50 for two days in the short term carpark, $5 per hour thereafter and $150 for a week in the carpark building.
While there are security cameras and patrol staff that regularly check on vehicles parked at the airport, if your vehicle is stolen, the airport will be not be held responsible and vehicle safety isn't guaranteed, a Christchurch Airport spokesman said.
"I was so busy," Ms Norman said. "I couldn't take a bus to get to the airport in time for my flight that's why I drove. I didn't park at the airport because it's too expensive and I have a budget to stick to. Thieves don't have a conscience and they don't understand the impact they inflict on their victims. I am still so angry and upset. The car meant freedom to me, it was my livelihood and it wasn't insured so it makes it worse," she said.
Detective Senior Sergeant Corrie Parnell said 4WD thefts had escalated in Christchurch.
"Clearly this is a big problem and we are working hard at putting extra resources into catching these crooks. Due to the high amount of hiluxs on the road and their 'run forever' reputation the supply and demand has gone through the roof. Being a hilux fan myself, I can see this first hand. They are a hot commodity. It's got to the point where the operation is that polished, if you blink you'll miss it."
In the last two weeks, four Nissan Terranos, two Mitsubishis, two Toyota Hiluxs and four cars have been stolen.
Detective Senior Sergeant Parnell said last week the owner of a stolen 4WD identified it after thieves had "re birthed" it.
Rebirthing is when a car's firewall and plates are removed and replaced with another non-stolen vehicle's for a legitimate sale.
"The recovered 4WD was the best rebirthing job I'd seen. These crooks know what they are doing," he said.
Two years ago 69 per cent of stolen vehicles were recovered but in the last year most stolen 4WDs are not being recovered, Detective Senior Sergeant Parnell said.
- By Samantha McPherson of the Star