Generosity cheers tourists after theft

By Laurilee McMichael -
Ben Horner and girlfriend Claire Barham. Photo / Supplied
Ben Horner and girlfriend Claire Barham. Photo / Supplied

A pair of British tourists who lost up to $16,000 worth of their possessions when their van was stolen in Taupo have been overwhelmed by local generosity.

Claire Barham and Ben Horner are grateful for the support of Taupo and Rotorua locals who have offered them accommodation, outings and the loan of a car. But last week's loss of their campervan, passports, clothes, computer, iPods, Kindle readers, bicycles and gifts they had bought for relatives in the United Kingdom has been hard to take.

It's the loss of the little things that hurts - like the pounamu pendant Claire was given after working with special needs children in Queenstown, and the silver necklace that belonged to her mother, who died when Claire was 12.

To make matters worse, the couple was uninsured. Their British travel insurance lapsed after a year and could not be renewed from outside the UK, so they were not covered.

Ben and Claire have been in New Zealand for almost a year on a working holiday visa. For 10 months they were based in Queenstown, with Ben working as a tour guide and Claire as a teaching assistant. Then they planned a two-month tour of New Zealand. But with three weeks to go, they left the van at Taupo's Spa Park on February 27 while they went for a dip in the park's hot stream. When they returned to the carpark, it was gone.

Since then they've been staying with a family in Taupo while they sort out what to do. Everything they owned in New Zealand was in their van so the past week has involved shelling out for new passports, at a cost of $675, to buying replacement underwear.

But there have been bright spots too. They've been offered free accommodation at Rotorua's Alpin Motel, and at Mt Maunganui, Coromandel, Auckland and Northland. While in Rotorua this week they enjoyed a concert at the Tamaki Maori Village, a trip to Rainbow Springs and a spin with K-Jet - all complimentary. They've had free bungy jumps at Taupo Bungy (free t-shirts came in handy too given their depleted wardrobe), a free ride on Hukafalls Jet and even a free lunch in Napier. Their host in Taupo, Jan Robertson, is lending them a car for the rest of

their trip, until they leave New Zealand on March 21.

Although the couple has spread appeals via Facebook for any sightings of their distinctive red-and-white van and are still hopeful they'll see their things again, they know it's unlikely. The van was spotted in a rural area south of Auckland last Monday but there's been no word since.

Ben said while it's been "really hard" losing their van and gear, there has been an upside.

"Meeting [the Robertsons] has really opened our eyes to how generous people can be and we're going to meet some of these families. It's an experience we never would have got if [the theft] hadn't happened."

The couple said they had nothing against Taupo. After experiencing the activities over the past week as well as joining the crowd at the finish line of Ironman New Zealand, they even think it's "one of the coolest towns we've been to".

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