Thieves crept through a family's tent while they were sleeping at a picturesque Northland camping ground and stole Christmas presents in what was the start of a summer holiday from hell.

To make matters worse, Kerikeri woman Natalie Plows and her family had to cut their "nightmare" camping trip a week short after strong winds ripped their tents and snapped poles.

Ms Plows had just lost her job but wanted to end the year on a high so she and partner Jason Christensen and their four children - aged between 3 and 13 - travelled to the Maitai Bay's Department of Conservation campsite, on the Karikari Peninsula in Northland.

Declan (back) and (from left to right), Glyn, Caitlin holding Addison, and Thomas were gutted after thieves stole Christmas presents. Photo / Supplied
Declan (back) and (from left to right), Glyn, Caitlin holding Addison, and Thomas were gutted after thieves stole Christmas presents. Photo / Supplied

Family friend Tracey Walsh and her 8-year-old son, Glyn, were also with them.


"I'd just lost my job after a contract ended and I had this holiday pay, so we thought we'd enjoy it and just end a hard year off on a high," Ms Plows said.

Two days after Christmas, the family woke to find that thieves had crept into their communal tent area, taking a bag with Christmas presents inside - including adult colouring-in books, pens and pencils - and leaving other items scattered on the grass.

They also stole three pairs of sunglasses and prescription glasses.

"I was gutted and my children were extremely upset," Ms Plows said.

The family, who were camped near a walkway and sand dunes, later found a box of sweets taken from the bag at the top of the dunes.

"They must've been watching us sleep and eating the big box of Turkish Delights my children got me. It was a little creepy thinking about them watching us," Ms Plows said.

When the family reported the incident at the local DoC office, they met another family, from Auckland, who had been targeted that night also.

"They had a rod and reel taken from their boat and two of their life-jackets inflated and stabbed several items."


Ms Plows said they also understood a number of campers had reported their vehicles' tyres being slashed.

"They never got the thieves, but it's a big area - anyone could've done it."

Then the family had to end their trip a week early after strong winds snapped their tents poles on New Year's Day.

They initially moved to a friends' tent but then that ripped and started leaking.

So they drove home at midnight - a journey of about 94km - before driving back the next day after four hours sleep to pack up.

Ms Plows said the site was "total carnage".

"Pretty much everything is written off, ending our holiday a week early," she said.

"We are now in the process of trying to dry everything out and see what is salvageable and tally up what has been damaged or lost.

"You always think [theft] could maybe happen in a camping ground but the timing, the time and effort and money spent getting the perfect gifts, it was just heartbreaking. And with the storm... we came back in the morning and just cried. It was a nightmare."

Carolyn Smith, DoC's Far North partnerships manager, confirmed the Maitai Bay theft and vandalism incidents were reported to them.

She says a local police officer was also told and police have increased their presence at the popular DoC-run non-powered campsite, which welcomes around 20,000 campers every summer - making it the second busiest DoC camp in the North Island.

Camp staff are also locking the gates at 10pm in the wake of the incident, and reopening them at 6am.

"It's unfortunate this has happened but put in perspective, it is an isolated incident," Ms Smith said.

Camp staff are vigilant in monitoring anti-social behaviour, she added.

She also advised campers to report illegal activity to police.