THE frustrated French hitchhiker who lashed out after being marooned with his thumb out at a tiny West Coast tourist hot-spot for four days has vowed to hitch a lift to his next court appearance.
Cedric Claude Rene Rault-Verpre, 27, appeared at Greymouth District Court today where he pleaded guilty to wilfully damaging road signs after his disastrous four-day mission to get out of Punakaiki.
Outside court, Rault-Verpre said New Zealand should be renamed "Nazi Zealand".
Asked how long he had been in the country he replied, "too long - way too long - and I've been to 80 countries".
He was ordered to surrender his passport as part of his bail conditions and remanded to appear at Christchurch District Court on Friday.
A court source told the Herald that Rault-Verpre indicated that he would hitchhike across the Southern Alps to Christchurch.
Rault-Verpre's epic West Coast meltdown appears out of character for the glove-trotting traveller, who hails from Villeneuve-Loubet in the south of France.
His profile on social networking site Couchsurfing.com is full of positive encounters with people who have put him up, including several Kiwis during his New Zealand stay.
He's variously described as being tidy, friendly, and talkative. All of his 80 references are positive.
One host in Whangarei says she would have him back.
"I do not think any words can describe Cedric. Anybody who has hitchhiked through 70 countries and is still going is unique," she posted on his page.
"He said he is normally pretty quiet but he wasn't when we got talking. He has a unique perspective on people, countries and cultures from his travels. He certainly challenged a lot of my ways of thinking. We had some great debates and I learnt a lot from him. I hope you have a great time in NZ Cedric and you are welcome back anytime."
His profile says he is fluent in Bulgarian, English, French, and Spanish and describes himself as a, "Hitchhiker who is traveling around".
"When I have the opportunity to meet someone it's usually good, sometimes great, sometimes boring. The couch is not so important to me but the hospitality is," he explains.
Rault-Verpre says he is interested in "nature, beautiful mountains, cultures and old arts", as well as "ruins not crowded by tourists and their bloody camera".
He lists 73 countries that he has visited, including New Zealand.
In court, Rault-Verpre said he had spent four days on the side of State Highway 6 at Punakaiki and no one had bothered to even offer him water.
Locals contacted police yesterday alleging Rault-Verpre took his frustration out on road signs at Punakaiki.
They said he took one out of the ground and threw it in the nearby Punakaiki River and hurled large rocks at another. They also told police he had verbally abused tourists and locals.
The owner of the signs, Fulton Hogan, is seeking $3000 reparation, an amount Rault-Verpre is disputing.
Duty lawyer Marcus Zintl said Rault-Verpre just wanted the matter to go away and was prepared to pay reparation, although he believed the signs were already damaged and he did not do $3000 worth of damage to them.
Rault-Verpre arrived at the courthouse with a backpack, carrying a large black rubbish sack and wearing jeans and a jumper.
Yesterday, Senior Sergeant Paul Watson said: "He could have started walking, he would have been in Franz Josef by now."
Police arrested Rault-Verpre and took him to Greymouth where he was bailed and his passport confiscated.
A staff member from Punakaiki Visitor Centre said yesterday Rault-Verpre had been seen around Punakaiki.
He was noticeable because of the big black plastic bag he carried and was understood to have slept on Punakaiki Beach.
She first saw him on Saturday afternoon when driving home from work. He was on the side of the road near the Punakaiki River bridge and appeared to be hitching south.
When she returned the next morning he was there again.
She did not see him with his thumb out and wondered if he actually knew hitchhiking technique.
Local business owner Neil Mouat called the police.
He said it seemed the man had enough English to get by as he had offered police the translation services of a French couple working for him but they were not required.
Police alerted the NZ Transport Agency's West Coast contracting team to the sign damage.
Regional performance manager Pete Connors said a replacement sign for the major sign at the entrance to Punakaiki was being ordered and it would be installed in coming weeks.
For safety reasons, New Zealand Police does not recommend people hitchhike or accept rides from people they don't know.
"If you do decide to hitchhike, police strongly advise you not to travel alone," a spokeswoman said today.
- NZ Herald
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