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Seven backpackers visiting one of Hawke's Bay's most popular and pristine tourist locations were victims of a daylight theft this week.
The group of young travellers from Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Germany and France went swimming at Maraetotara Falls, halfway between Havelock North and Waimarama, on Wednesday unaware they would be the targets of brazen thieves.
Frenchman Benoit Thoury said he left the swimming hole about 5pm, after a few hours in the water, to find windows of his van and a fellow backpacker's car smashed.
The 27-year-old has been living in Hastings for three months and working on an orchard. He lost his French passport, credit cards and $200 cash, all of which had been left inside the vehicle.
He said it was his second trip to Maraetotara Falls after seeing its "beauty" earlier in the year.
"There are many families, children up there. You don't expect that people would be smashing in windows," said the tourist who was on his first trip to New Zealand.
The seven travellers have been staying at Nottingley Villa, a Hastings backpacker facility, for several months, most of them working on Hawke's Bay orchards during summer.
Nottingley Villa owner Lee Tafford said it has been a "bountiful season" for thieves with so many break-ins at the falls, carpeting the carpark in "50 per cent gravel, 50 per cent glass".
Senior Sergeant Dave Sutherland said the thefts tended to be seasonal.
"There is a sign up there from the police that says it's a high crime area, but nothing seems to be done about it ...
"It really annoys me because this sort of stuff is preventable," he said.
"It's also really sad because you recommend places like that to visitors. 'Go to Waimarama, have a lovely day and stop by the falls on the way back for a swim'. You just feel terrible.
"They work really hard these kids. Most of them are doing jobs that don't pay very much and are really hard work; just for their money to be taken by some thug."
Krista Wu, 28, from Taiwan, lost her camera and photography equipment during the group's ill-fated visit to the falls when fellow Taiwanese national Jake Xu, 24, also had his car broken into as they cooled off from the summer sun.
"I quite like New Zealand. The feeling is people are really nice compared to my country," said Ms Wu.
"They [offenders] probably think we are tourists and foreigners and go after our stuff. I won't be leaving anything valuable in the car any more."
Senior Sergeant Dave Sutherland said several car break-ins this summer had been reported at Maraetotara Falls.
"It tends to be a seasonal thing. We recommend people lock their car, don't leave anything valuable in the vehicle and anything else in your car should be out of sight." He said if people saw anything suspicious at the tourist spot to phone police, adding they were seeking a person of interest in relation to the Maraetotara Falls crime season.
He described the suspect as a male Maori of average height and build with short hair and aged in his mid-20s.
Police said the area was identified as a location of interest and one arrest was made last week for theft from the Maraetotara Falls area.
- Sam Hurley of Hawkes Bay Today