The tight-knit community of Kaikoura is mourning the loss of a man whose body was believed to have been found in a burnt-out van near a popular surf beach.
Police today confirmed that a badly burned vehicle located on Kiwa Rd, the access route to popular surfing spot Mangamaunu, known as 'Meatworks', 15km north of Kaikoura, contained a body.
It was removed from the van today and police are now trying to work out what started the fire and formally identifying the body and notifying next of kin.
Locals say the body was that of an Auckland man in his mid-to-late 20s known as Adam.
The van was believed to have been parked there overnight on Sunday.
Local resident Juanita Edelmann, who lives in Kiwa Rd, was stunned by the death of a "nice guy, a surfer, a free spirit".
She said the man had been coming to the Kaikoura area "on and off" for around five years, to enjoy the renowned Meatworks surf break, as well as the local skifields.
Ms Edelmann was adamant that there was nothing sinister behind the death and feared it may have been caused by the use of candles inside the van, where the man slept and lived.
"He'd been told to keep candles out of there," she told APNZ.
"The van didn't look that much different from the outside until you got close. I think something has smouldered and he's been overcome by smoke.
"I saw him on Sunday. He was heading out for a surf and it was great waves. He'd worked that night and surfed all the next day.
"He was really happy, off to the States next week to see his girlfriend. It's sad."
Kaikoura's wine and food festival, Seafest was also held in the coastal tourist town at the weekend.
Police said today the event was tarnished by high levels of drunkenness and drink-driving.
But Ms Edelmann didn't think the death was related.
"It's just a tragic accident," she said.
Once local Maori lift a tapu and the van is removed by police, the surfing fraternity and the local marae are planning a a commemorative service.
A memorial could be set up to remember the man who was "one of us", Ms Edelmann said.
Police have been tight-lipped over their investigation.
They had apparently told locals the man's parents had been told but his girlfriend - who is studying in the United States - was yet to be told.
"I'm so sad for his girlfriend," Ms Edelmann said.
"She just sent us a note saying she can't wait to get back next summer when she's out of university."By Kurt Bayer @KurtBayerAPNZ Email Kurt