When tourists nicked surfing gear from Mount Backpackers, it wasn't money motivating business owner Jo Veale to track them down.

"At the end of the day I could have written off the loss but it became about the principle."

The amateur sleuth's search began when two tourists failed to return with surfboards and wetsuits - worth $1900 - they'd rented for a day.

Ms Veale made a poster with security camera stills, shots of the gear and details she remembered. She put it on social media.

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In the following days, more than 40,000 people saw her posts, which were pushed out to any business or community they thought the thieves might visit.

The leads started coming in. The pair were even spotted trying to sell surfboards out of a car in downtown Mount Maunganui.

But the big break in the case came via a Raglan surfer who spotted one of the pair at his cafe and bailed him up.

"He just walked up to him and said, 'Hey you look like one of those guys who stole those surfboards'," Ms Veale said.

Raglan police interviewed the suspect.

Ms Veale learned one of the tourists' names and started messaging him on Facebook. The tourist had left New Zealand.

"I had this really weird conversation with him that went on over a few days."

"We will not stop," she wrote. "Your parents and all of your friends will know about this."

He made excuses and denials; she hit back with witness reports that contradicted his story.

At one point she even emailed international police. She sent him media reports about her hunt.

"Stop lying. Just talk about how you will repay us," she wrote.

He continued to deny everything, admitting only to having the boards one day too long and returning them by putting them over the back fence of the backpackers.

Eventually, he promised to talk to a friend still in New Zealand and "get it together".

Soon after - almost three weeks after the theft - the stolen gear turned up next to a neighbouring shop's bins.

Ms Veale sent a final message to her suspect:

"The challenge ahead of you is to make better choices in your life from now on. Finished."

She said it was "very satisfying" to close the case.

Since then, the mum-of-five has put her skills to use on a few other crimes.

It took her 24 hours to track down a backpacker's stolen pack last month.

"It's just perseverance. We did the legwork and it worked out fine.

"We want people to know: this is our community, you cannot come here and do that."