A priceless pounamu waka stolen from a woman's Rotorua grave has been returned, just in time for her son to say goodbye.
The precious greenstone waka, which sat at the base of Lisa Watson's headstone, was discovered missing in December by her husband Ray Watson.
Despite countless words of support from members of the public, the family had not heard of the whereabouts of the taonga.
However, when family members visited the gravesite at the weekend, they saw the waka had been anonymously returned, and they alerted Mr Watson.
"When we were told it had been returned there were lots of big smiles and tears of joy.
"My 13-year-old son was very happy to see his mother's grave in its proper state as he had to leave for the first time to start boarding school in Auckland [yesterday]," Mr Watson said.
In the week before it was returned, he and his family had a "sense of optimism" about the waka.
"We were feeling really optimistic and had genuine hope that it was going to find its way back to Lisa's gravesite, so we were really relieved when it finally happened.
"What was also really cool was the small pieces of loose pounamu that sit inside the waka were also returned."
Mr Watson said the support from the public had been overwhelming.
"Ever since we made the theft public, our family has received a tremendous outpouring of support. Having it disappear was so distressing at the time, so having it returned has really restored our faith in human nature."
Ngaire Nicholson also had a precious taonga stolen around the same time from the grave of husband Norman, in the same cemetery.
She said when she visited his grave on Sunday, the blessed Maori walking stick was still missing: "I am still holding out hope that someone will come to their senses and return it to the rightful owner."