Balaclava-wearing thieves used a crowbar to smash through a wooden door and glass to steal $30,000 worth of kauri gum from a Northland gumdigger park.
John Johnson lives on the premises of Waiharara's Gumdiggers' Park, 24km north west of Kaitaia, and when he heard a "hell of a racket" on Saturday night he got up to have a look, expecting it to be possums. Instead he found a glass cabinet, which housed his collection of kauri gum, smashed and saw two balaclava-clad men standing there at 8.30pm. "It all happened so quickly. They charged at me towards the door and threw kauri gum at me and it smashed everywhere. There was about a dozen pieces, it hit the floor and bounced off the rails and shattered."
Mr Johnson said the gum had "probably" hit him as they flung it in his direction but he could not quite remember because of the shock. "I had this adrenaline rush. It's a shock to know someone broke in while you live there and they're standing there robbing you," he said.
The thieves bagged 80 pieces of kauri gum with a retail price of $30,000, a collection Mr Johnson had acquired over 20 years from all over Northland. "I got them wherever I could get them. Sometimes locals would bring in raw pieces and I'd buy them and polish them, they targeted this collection."
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Mr Johnson said there was definitely a market for the gum. He said it was popular in the Asian market and said there were a lot of collectors around. "They won't get anything like what it's actually worth, but that won't worry them. They'll just be after some cash so they can buy their P, and they won't have much trouble finding a buyer."
Mr Johnson said police were at the park yesterday morning for fingerprinting. He said the park did have security alarms and CCTV cameras but said he turned them off when he was home, he will now be keeping them. In 2014 an Awanui family was left devastated when tens of thousands of dollars worth of items were stolen from their museum - most of the haul comprised kauri gum. Mr Johnson said he remembered that theft and thought to himself at the time "that could be me".