Martine Rolls: Fast lane to trouble

I do feel sorry for the two 21- year-old French tourists who ended up catching a ride with the wrong people when hitching near Papamoa last weekend.

They were mugged and assaulted, left shaken without their money, passports, and other possessions.

Police are still asking for help from anyone who may have seen these two tourists being picked up or abandoned on Saturday afternoon.

The assault on the hitchhikers took place at the back of the old Shell Service Station on State Highway 2 near the Domain Rd intersection at the far end of Welcome Bay.

I have passed that location many times and more than once wondered why that building hasn't been demolished yet as it is not just an ugly site. It also looks like a rather dodgy spot.

On our website, people have left comments about the attack and about the abandoned site along the highway. They mentioned that the land owner and authorities should be ashamed of themselves for letting that eyesore stay there for that long in the first place.

One of the comments posted on the story after we published it online read: "Well it is a horrible thing but that's life in the big bad world where ever you go there is always a risk of it happening to poor unsuspecting and marginally unworldly tourists.

"They should put this sign up at Auckland International as a warning to all arriving tourists: Bonjour! Be careful. We have bandits too!"

Many visitors still see New Zealand as clean, green, peaceful and safe and when compared with a lot of other places, it actually is.

But of course that doesn't mean you can camp just anywhere, or blindly trust anyone who stops in a car to offer you a free ride to Rotorua.

Not to forget, a Czech tourist was killed while hitchhiking in the South Island not too long ago. Hasn't that put New Zealand on the tourism map, again, for all the wrong reasons?<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

The young French men, who had been in New Zealand for a few months and have very limited knowledge of the English language, have received dozens of offers of accommodation, clothing and other assistance from people in the Bay of Plenty, Auckland and as far as Hawke's Bay.

It's heart-warming to see how Kiwis pull together to help and support visitors who have found themselves in nasty situations like this when travelling in New Zealand.

It goes without saying that when something like this happens to tourists, it reflects badly on the country as a whole.

Then again, everyone should know this day and age that hitch-hiking can be risky business.

In some countries, including parts of the USA, it is even illegal.

There aren't many countries left in the world where thumbing is a commonly used way of getting around.

I used to do it with a boyfriend many years ago but even then we got in situations that we ended up running away as fast as we could.

The first memorable hiking experience that comes to mind is the day we were picked up in the Irish countryside by an absolutely atrocious driver in a little blue car.

He told us after a few minutes of erratic racing along the windy country road that he had just come back from the hospital where he received monthly shock-therapy sessions.

He then cried and told us about his mum who had died a year or so earlier.

He showed us a bunch of pictures of her that he grabbed out of the glove box while going at least 80km/h on that narrow road.

I had to grab the wheel at least six times to keep the car from crashing before we finally got to an intersection that looked like a great place to get out and wait for our next ride.

This man may have been bonkers, but at least he was friendly and not some crazy axe murderer.

We didn't have smart phones with Twitter and Facebook enabled on it at the time so if things would have been worse, we would not have been able to reach anyone for help.

I do support carefree and budget travelling as I did plenty of it myself in my younger days, but I just can't help wondering why these guys didn't use the internet a bit better to research their travels before happily hopping into a car that is described by police as being in rough condition with two complete strangers.

If they had at least Googled things, they would have known that you can get a bus anywhere around New Zealand, often for only a few dollars per trip.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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