A Northland man who bashed two young American tourists - leaving one with a broken jaw needing reconstructive surgery - has been sentenced to six months' home detention.

Daniel Rama Tito, 22, of Waitangi was sentenced in the Kaikohe District Court yesterday on charges of assault with intent to injure, common assault, burglary and theft.

The attack occurred in Paihia on January 3 this year and was widely reported in New Zealand and the victims' home state of Montana, sparking fears for the Bay of Islands' vital tourism industry.

The court heard that Jacob Ulgenes, 22, and Scott Kelleher, 23, had been in New Zealand less than 48 hours when they crossed paths with Tito.

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They were socialising on Kings Rd about 3am when a car pulled up in front of their group with its lights on full beam.

An argument ensued between two women, one in the car and one on the footpath, and the two young Americans stepped forward to try to calm them. Tito got out of the car and punched the two backpackers with full force in the head.

Mr Kelleher was knocked out, suffering bruising and a cut lip; Mr Ulgenes had to have his jaw rebuilt at Middlemore Hospital.

Tito was eventually identified thanks to newly installed CCTV cameras and pleaded guilty.

Judge Greg Davis told Tito his community, and his country, relied on tourism. His actions risked changing Paihia's image from a clean, green destination to a place where "you'll get your head bashed in by some Maori boys full of beer and looking for a fight".

The judge said his family and Tito's were linked by whakapapa, and his actions reflected badly on both.

The sentence starting point was 19 months' jail, reduced to six months home detention for Tito's guilty plea, remorse and other factors.

Judge Davis said he had to send a message to anyone thinking about attacking a tourist, or anyone else for that matter, but jailing Tito would only turn him into a more sophisticated offender.

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He also had stern words for the adults in Tito's life, wondering why they weren't around to to tell him when it was time to stop drinking.

Tito was also ordered to complete tikanga Maori and drug and alcohol programmes, with six months post-detention conditions.

Police prosecutor Sergeant Russell Price said street thuggery such as Tito's threatened the Bay of Islands' main source of jobs and income.

The victims' impact statement, on the other hand, was so gracious and conciliatory to the man who had ruined their first overseas holiday that he struggled to comprehend it.

The burglary charge related to a break-in at Titoki, near Whangarei, in 2009. An estimated $20,000 worth of property was taken including irreplaceable family heirlooms.

Tito was arrested only in December 2014 when he was linked to fingerprints found at the scene.

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The theft charge arose from a petrol drive-off at Kaikohe's Ngapuhi Service Station in May in which he had tried to use a sock to disguise his car's number plate.