Three German tourists who flew into New Zealand stepped off the plane and stole a rental van from the airport car-park to use for their travels.

Friedrich Weisbach, 21, Hans Lorenz Steinfurth, 20, and Isabelle Caroline Manna, 21, had been backpacking through Australia and were heading to New Zealand when they heard some tourists left the keys in rental car doors at airports for fellow travellers to steal.

When they arrived at Christchurch International Airport on Tuesday they immediately headed for the rental companies' car park.

They soon found a Lucky Rentals campervan which had been returned earlier that day and the keys left dangling in its door.

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The trio took off in the van but were soon tracked down by police.

When they were caught, they told officers how they had heard of the scam while travelling in Australia.

Today, they appeared from custody at Christchurch District Court to admit charges of theft.

Police prosecutor Sergeant Kathy Pomfrett told the court that diversion could not be considered by police until next week, but the travellers were keen to keep moving.

Duty solicitor Michael Knowles asked for the case to be stood down until 11.45am today in order for them to go to the bank and withdraw cash that could be offered as reparation.

They returned later in the morning and Judge Noel Walsh ordered them to pay $602.50 in reparations to the rental company. He also convicted and discharged them.