Anthony Cressend was really looking forward to experiencing New Zealand.

He boarded the plane in Australia, excited about seeing its sights, trying out his new longboard and maybe even jumping out of a plane.

But days after hitting Kiwi soil, the Frenchman, 27, was attacked by strangers at a Northland campsite - left battered and bleeding on the ground with a thrice-broken jaw and kicked-in teeth.

"My teeth were in my mouth and I was ... [demonstrates spitting into hand]," he told the Herald yesterday, wincing.

Police told him they would not investigate without a Kiwi contact number.

"As soon as I said that [he did not have a New Zealand cellphone] the [officer] flipped over his book and said 'Well we can't call outside of New Zealand cell zone'," said travel companion Emily Holloway, 24.

Now Mr Cressend eats soup or processed food and can't open his mouth to brush his teeth.

"I would like to make lots of sport here, but I can't. I would like to have good souvenirs [memories] of New Zealand but I don't."

He has metal plates fixed on to both gums - winched together with thick elastic bands - and three pins in his chin. Doctors could not put the plates near the breaks at the top of his jaw - for fear of damaging his ear drums.

If x-rays show his jaw has not set he will need reconstruction.

Nerve damage to his face means he may never regain his old smile.

Two hours before the bashing, Mr Cressend told his Mum how much he liked New Zealand. He has not told her about the attack.

Mr Cressend, Ms Holloway and another friend, Thony Collomb, 29, arrived at the campsite in darkness. No one warned them not to walk alone, so Mr Cressend went for a wander.

Metres from the trio's campervan he was set upon from behind by three strangers. Mr Cressend spent the next three days going from hospital to hospital, winding up in the plastic surgery unit at Middlemore. He is on a cocktail of painkillers and antibiotics and has to be very wary of infection.

Plotting their South Island itinerary, the trio are trying to stay positive.

But they are shocked by the random attack in a country they had thought to be safe and friendly.

"Even in Albania, which is really dangerous, we have never had this problem, even in Bolivia ... They are just friendly with you and you don't feel it's dangerous," Mr Collomb said.

They told their story as a warning to other tourists.