After an "epic" long weekend in Queenstown, Rire Norman didn't expect to return to an empty space where her car was parked.
Someone had stolen the 34-year-old's "pride and joy,'' a 1992 Toyota Hilux Surf.
And Ms Norman is not alone. She's one of 12 travellers who have returned from trips over the last two weeks to find their cars stolen from Memorial Ave and Russley Rd. They were parked there because it's too "expensive'' to park at Christchurch Airport.
"I parked my truck on the side of the road because I was told it was safe and people leave their cars there all the time. There are cars parked bumper to bumper.
"Just before I left for Queenstown on February 7, I spent the last $2000 I had on repairs, registration and a warrant of fitness. It was an expense I couldn't really afford but it had to be done. I was away for five days and came back last Tuesday to find it gone.
"I was standing on the side of the road with my giant bag. I couldn't believe my eyes when I couldn't see it. I squinted, rubbed them and looked again. My world caved in. I was so upset. It was one of the few assets I owned,'' she said.
Inquiries by The Star yesterday revealed it would cost travellers $75 to park in the airport's long-term car park for a week and $25 per day thereafter; $50 for two days in the short-term carpark, $5 per hour thereafter and $150 for a week in the car park building.
While there are security cameras and patrol staff that regularly check on vehicles parked at the airport, if your vehicle is stolen the airport will be not be held responsible and vehicle safety isn't guaranteed, a Christchurch Airport spokesman said.
Ms Norman said: "I was so busy. I didn't have time to take a bus to the airport that's why I drove. I didn't park at the airport because it's too expensive and I have a budget to stick to.
"Thieves don't have a conscience and they don't understand the impact they inflict on their victims. I am still so angry and upset. The car meant freedom to me, it was my livelihood and it wasn't insured so it makes it worse.''
Detective Senior Sergeant Corrie Parnell said 4WD thefts have escalated in Christchurch.
"Clearly this is a big problem and we are working hard at putting extra resources into catching these crooks. ''
In the last two weeks, four Nissan Terranos, two Mitsubishis, two Toyota Hiluxs and four cars have been stolen.
Two years ago 69 per cent of stolen vehicles were recovered but in the last year most stolen 4WDs have not been recovered, Detective Senior Sergeant Parnell said.
Ms Norman said she paid $5500 for the Hilux six years ago. "It is really unique. It's burgundy, with R.I.A on the passenger door, a Salomon sticker on the back window and a "my brother's'' sticker on the back bumper. It's diesel and it's manual.''
Christchurch Airport parking charges:
- Long-term car park: $75 for seven days, $25 maximum charge per day thereafter, short-term car park: $50 for two days, $5 per hour thereafter, car park building, $150 for seven days.
- Craddocks Airport Car Storage: indoor: $25 per night for one to three nights, $8 per night thereafter, outdoor: $20 per night for one to three nights, $7 per night thereafter.
- Park & Ride: $45 for seven days. Domestic Business Express: $85 for seven days.