A Frenchman whose attempts to hitchhike out of the West Coast landed him in court says New Zealand should be renamed "Nazi Zealand". Cedric Claude Rene Rault-Verpre, 27, appeared in Greymouth District Court this morning charged with wilful damage after his disastrous four-day mission to get out of Punakaiki. Rault-Verpre pleaded guilty to damaging road signs. He was ordered to surrender his passport as part of his bail conditions and remanded to appear in Christchurch on Friday. In court, Rault-Verpre said he had spent four days on the side of State highway 6 at Punakaiki and no one had bothered to even offer him water. Locals contacted police yesterday alleging Rault-Verpre took his frustration out on road signs at Punakaiki. DO YOU HAVE A HITCHHIKING STORY? SEND US AN EMAIL
They said he took one out of the ground and threw it in the nearby Punakaiki River and hurled large rocks at another. They also told police he had verbally abused tourists and locals. The owner of the signs, Fulton Hogan, is seeking $3000 reparation, an amount Rault-Verpre is disputing.
Duty lawyer Marcus Zintl said Rault-Verpre just wanted the matter to go away and was prepared to pay reparation, although he believed the signs were already damaged and he did not do $3000 worth of damage to them. Rault-Verpre arrived at the courthouse with a backpack, carrying a large black rubbish sack and wearing jeans and a jumper. Outside court, Rault-Verpre said New Zealand should be renamed "Nazi Zealand". He believed no one wanted to hear his side of the story and that the damaged sign wasn't even worth $100. Asked how long he had been in this country he replied, "too long - way too long - and I've been to 80 countries". He did not confirm if he intended hitchhiking to Christchurch following his appearance today or whether he would take a bus to make his court appearance on Friday. Yesterday, Senior Sergeant Paul Watson said: "He could have started walking, he would have been in Franz Josef by now." Where the hitchhiker could have got to in four days
Police arrested Rault-Verpre and took him to Greymouth where he was bailed and his passport confiscated. A staff member from Punakaiki Visitor Centre said yesterday Rault-Verpre had been seen around Punakaiki. He was noticeable because of the big black plastic bag he carried and was understood to have slept on Punakaiki Beach. She first saw him on Saturday afternoon when driving home from work. He was on the side of the road near the Punakaiki River bridge and appeared to be hitching south. When she returned the next morning he was there again. She did not see him with his thumb out and wondered if he actually knew hitchhiking technique. Local business owner Neil Mouat, whose property is close by, said an older local man who was whitebaiting had upbraided Rault-Verpe after witnessing his behaviour - although there was concern the hitchhiker might take a swing at him, he said. Mouat said when he arrived Rault-Verpe was sitting on the ground, so he went to examine the damaged signs and found quite a few gone. "By that stage he was lying on the road and I couldn't quite see but I thought he was almost lying on the white line by a blind corner." When the police arrived Rault-Verpe stayed on the ground and spoke to them from a prone position. Mouat said the man told one local that "New Zealand was s**t and he couldn't wait to get back to Europe". Police alerted the NZ Transport Agency's West Coast contracting team to the sign damage. Regional performance manager Pete Connors said a replacement sign for the major sign at the entrance to Punakaiki was being ordered and it would be installed in coming weeks. For safety reasons, New Zealand Police does not recommend people hitchhike or accept rides from people they don't know. "If you do decide to hitchhike, police strongly advise you not to travel alone," a spokeswoman said today. The AA referred inquiries around hitchhiking to police.