A 5-year-old girl, visiting New Zealand from Europe, is in a serious but stable condition in hospital after what appears to have been a sexually motivated attack.

The girl was sleeping in a caravan with her 3-year-old brother at Club Habitat Holiday Park in Turangi last night.

Police say her mother went to the amenity block where her husband was using his computer. When she returned to the caravan she told police she found it locked and saw a man inside with her daughter. She ran screaming for help at which point the offender left the caravan, said police.

The girl underwent four hours of surgery today and is in a serious but stable condition in hospital. Her brother was not harmed and slept through the attack.

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Detective Inspector Mark Loper, who is heading the investigation, would not say where the family was from, but said they had been travelling through the country and had been here for a while.

He said it is one of the worst assaults on a child he had seen in his 28 years of policing.

"The attack was brutal, on a young defenceless child who should have been spending Christmas on a dream holiday with her family. Her parents are absolutely distraught. They have expressed to us that their privacy is very important to them and they have asked for some space."

Police will not be drawn on the detail of the girl's injuries. However, Mr Loper said "they are significant and heart-wrenching. The nature of her injuries lead us to believe that the attack was sexually motivated".

There were about eight groups of people staying at the park last night, and police were carrying out interviews with all of those people and speaking to local residents to try to identify witnesses.

ESR staff today carried out an examination of a wide area of the holiday park, and the area remained cordoned off tonight as ESR continued with the scene examination.

Police are asking the community to focus on the period of time between 10pm and 10.45pm Wednesday, and to report any activity in and around the area of the park. They also want to hear from anyone who thinks they may know who carried out the attack.

"It doesn't matter how irrelevant the piece of information may seem, let us judge its importance," said Mr Loper. "It is vital that we catch the person responsible for this attack sooner rather than later. If someone feels they can not speak to us directly, Crimestoppers provides an avenue that guarantees anonymity."

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Anyone with information relevant to this investigation is asked to contact the Taupo Police Station on 07 378 6060. Alternatively information can be provided anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Bay of Plenty District Commander Superintendent Glenn Dunbier said the family were overwhelmed by the support they had received from emergency services.

A Club Habitat staff member said they had been instructed not to speak to the media but the incident was shocking, "especially seeing it's just a few days before Christmas".

Holiday Parks Association chief executive Fergus Brown said staff were shaken.

"They're very distressed about the whole situation," he said.

"We're very sad that this has happened and our thoughts are with the family, but it's very much an isolated incident. But it's very, very sad, especially at this time of year."

Mr Brown said he did not think the incident would deter tourists from staying at holiday parks in New Zealand.

"Unfortunately crime happens throughout the world and New Zealand has its fair share, but we're definitely a reasonably safe country to travel in.

"Holiday parks have always been known as safe places to stay at, so we're very, very concerned about this happening."

Mr Brown said parents should always take care with younger children at holiday parks, many of which were next to beaches, rivers or lakes.

"But I think we are definitely not in the situation where we are in any heightened state of alert for safety at holiday parks.

"Holiday parks have always been known as very safe places for families to stay at, and it is the iconic New Zealand holiday, going to stay at the camping ground."