Two young German women have been reunited with their backpacks and most of their belongings less than 48 hours after their van was raided at Kerikeri Basin.
Lena Brueckner, 18, and Katrin Arzdorf, 19, were exploring the Stone Store area about 9.30am on Thursday when someone broke into their campervan and took their backpacks.
Ms Brueckner's pack was all but empty but Ms Arzdorf lost almost all her belongings, including clothing, an e-book reader and travel mementos.
A school van belonging to Bay of Islands College was parked nearby and also broken into. Six bags were taken, including the teacher's. Most students lost only textbooks and packed lunches, but a few lost wallets and electronics.
The Advocate's story was widely shared online with outrage over the thefts heightened by the fact the women had travelled to New Zealand to carry out unpaid conservation work. Of their ten-week trip, five weeks were spent on volunteer projects.
The pair abandoned their plans to visit Cape Reinga on Thursday and were instead taken in by a Kerikeri couple.
Their backpacks were found dumped by a roadside near Opononi in South Hokianga on Friday. It is understood they were found, along with other items, by a member of the public who had read about the thefts and handed the bags to police.
The same constable who dusted the backpackers' van for fingerprints on Thursday returned their belongings on Friday evening. Ms Brueckner said they were cooking dinner when the officer walked in with their packs.
"We were so happy. We didn't expect to see them again."
Most of their possessions were still inside. All that was missing was Ms Arzdorf's socks, T-shirts and shoes, as well as a collection of pebbles from every place the pair had visited.
Ms Brueckner said the theft had made them angry and upset, but afterwards they had been invited to stay at a "wonderful place" and shown a lot of kindness.
She had told her parents about the theft and people's generosity afterwards, and now they also wanted to come to New Zealand, she said.
The switchboard at Kerikeri police station ran hot on Friday with offers of help and enquiries from concerned locals.
The bags stolen from the Bay of Islands College van were not among those found in Opononi. Ms Brueckner and Ms Arzdorf were due to leave New Zealand today.
* Police are still seeking information about a couple seen acting suspiciously at the DoC carpark at Kerikeri Basin on Thursday morning. They are described as a male Maori, aged about 30 with unkempt hair and facial hair or stubble, wearing a sleeveless green polarfleece top with a yellow high-visibility neckline, and a female Maori aged 20-30 with dark hair. They were in a silver-grey car. Call the Kerikeri station on (09) 407 9211.