Paihia residents are "horrified and up in arms" over an attack on two US tourists as police close in on the man behind the vicious assault that left one of the visitors facing reconstructive surgery for his injuries.

Police are investigating a "person of interest" they believe may have been involved in the brutal attack on the tourists, one of whom will need ongoing surgery for his injuries.

The pair, who had been less than 48 hours in New Zealand, were the victims of what police are calling a vicious and unprovoked attack outside a backpackers on Kings Rd, Paihia, about 3am on Saturday. Aged 22 and 23, both were taken to Bay of Islands Hospital for treatment. The younger man will undergo surgery this week at Middlemore Hospital to reconstruct his jaw. He also needed seven stitches to his lower lip.

Senior Sergeant Peter Robinson said police were following up on a vehicle thought to have been used in the attack.

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"We're also speaking to a female, who's assisting us with our enquiries, and looking at a person of interest," he said.

Mr Robinson said the attacker's motive was not yet known. It appeared to be an act of aggression rather than a robbery. He was thought to be from the Bay of Islands. He urged anyone with information about the attack, or who was in the Kings Rd area about 3am on Saturday, to call Kerikeri police on (09) 407 9211.

Business Paihia chairman Craig Johnston said every facet of the town was "horrified and up in arms" over the attack. Such thuggery could have an extremely negative effect on tourism. "Unfortunately the sort of people who do these things have no concerns about the effects on a small town like ours. I also really feel for the poor guys who have been bashed," Mr Johnston said.

He was at a loss to know what more the community and businesses could do. Focus Paihia had installed CCTV and the town's police presence had increased, the result of a meeting with the Far North district commander. Bars could be asked to increase security but almost all incidents occurred well after closing time.

Focus Paihia chairman Grant Harnish said police were examining footage from security cameras the group had installed on Kings Rd as a deterrent after an earlier incident. While they did not stop problems entirely, he hoped in this case the images would lead police to the offenders. The victims, graduates of a Montana university on a 10-day holiday, were attacked in the courtyard of Bay Adventurer Backpackers. They had been socialising in town but made their way back to Kings Rd when the bars closed at 1am.

It is not the first time tourists have been attacked in Paihia. In April 2013 three English tourists were robbed at knifepoint on Kings Rd. The robbers took their possessions and their car, which was later found burnt out near Kawakawa.

In 2012 Kaikohe man Johnson Kane Tau was jailed for three years for an attack in October 2011 which left an English tourist with a broken jaw and needing ongoing surgery. Tau knocked him unconscious with two punches to the head then took his cellphone, wallet and watch.