Iri Martin was only gone for 20 minutes - she drove to Kaitaia to post some chocolates to her husband, who is in care in Kaikohe - but that was long enough for someone to drive on to her lawn, take her portable generator and drive off with it.

"They were expensive chocolates," 73-year-old Martin said.

The Powertec generator, which had been given to her about two years ago, had been worth $1900 and was not insured. And she wasn't expecting anyone to suffer an attack of conscience give it back.

She had gas for cooking, heating and her fridge, she said, but without electricity she had no lights, no television and was unable to sew.

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She had lived on her small piece of land, on the Kaitaia-Awaroa Rd, near the northern foot of the Herekino Gorge, for 18 years. For the first time, she was locking her doors when she wasn't there.

"The problems started when the [Mangamuka] gorge closed," she said.

"This has become the main road now. You see all sorts of people, although most of them are looking for their pig dogs."

She suspected that the thief or thieves had been watching, waiting for her to leave. The generator had not been visible from the road, but she feared something was amiss when she arrived home to see tyre marks on her lawn and smelled petrol, presumably spilled by the thief.

"I'm gutted but okay," Martin said, adding that she was saddened that some in the community had not grown up with the same values she had been taught.

"They're stealing for drugs. They will steal anything," she said.

"It's sad that some people are reduced to this way of life because of a drug. There is potential in everyone, but some people aren't willing to give it a go."