The police say the men who attacked three English tourists in the Bay of Islands first befriended them, then robbed them at knifepoint.
The visitors, all in their early 20s, were asleep in their car in Kings Road in Paihia early last Sunday when five men turned up asking for cigarettes.
Detective Greg Johnson says the tourists had shared cigarettes with the men about an hour earlier in the evening but declined their invitation to go to a party.
The police say when one of the tourists opened the car door, a knife was thrust in the face of the driver and everyone in the car was ordered to get out.
The robbers drove off with all the tourists' possessions including packs, passports, fishing gear, cellphones and a camera.
The police say Paihia locals helped the stranded tourists with accommodation and meals.
Mr Johnson says the only description the tourists could give is that their attackers appeared to be Maori, aged from about 18 to 25.
They are looking for a 1997 silver Subaru Legacy, registration CEY423.