Three German visitors to New Zealand were delighted to find an anonymous well-wisher had left them a free van, ready for use, at Christchurch Airport.
At least, that’s what they told Christchurch District Court on Friday, when they faced charges of having stolen the vehicle.
The trio said they presumed the van, which they discovered in the airport carpark on Tuesday with its keys in the door, had been abandoned for free use.
The tourists said they had heard while travelling in Australia that backpackers in New Zealand sometimes left their cars behind at the airport if they were unable to sell their vehicles before leaving New Zealand.
The tourists’ story of how they considered the van to be a philanthropic gesture in their direction has been widely publicised in New Zealand. The van (actually owned by Lucky Rentals and worth NZD 10,000) had been left at the airport earlier in the day by the previous renter.
The tourists drove off in the van but police swiftly tracked them down.
The court treated their story sceptically, found them guilty and ordered them to pay NZD 602 damages.
Friedrich Weisbach, 21, Hans Lorenz Steinfurth, 20, and Isabelle Caroline Manna, 21, had arrived in Christchurch from Australia.
While they admitted having taken the vehicle, they pointed out it was not an obvious rental van and it had not been left in the rental area of the carpark.
The judge convicted the three and discharged them after they paid the damages.
Written by Peter Needham in Wellington New Zealand