Feb 2018 Otago Daily Times
A deaf backpacker's cochlear implant and hearing aids, worth about $15,000, have been stolen from the Hot and Cold Pools near Rotorua. Julia Ofele, a 23-year-old German futsal player, took off her devices to go swimming but the bag they were in was stolen about 8.30pm on February 7.
She was left with nothing but the bikini she was wearing, her towel and her GoPro, which had fallen out of her bag. "We had no keys, no money, no passport. Nothing," she said. The AA was called so Ofele and her friend could gain access to their car and get their clothes. The police were called and have GoPro footage of the thief and the number plate of his getaway car.
Ofele was born deaf and has been travelling in New Zealand since August.
Since arriving in New Zealand she has helped at a futsal championships in Wellington, has met and stayed with other deaf people, made repeat visits to Rotorua, walked the Tongariro Crossing and visited Abel Tasman National Park. "The nature is very beautiful in New Zealand and most people are very friendly," she said. "New Zealanders are more accepting of people who are different."
But this is the second time her belongings have been taken. With her hearing devices stolen Ofele cannot hear. The friend she was travelling with is not deaf and does not know sign language, so the pair had to write notes. "It was hard to communicate," she said. "It was fine for me because I was born deaf and I use sign language. Sign language is a beautiful language.” After eight days without sound she visited the Hearing House in Auckland, a charity for deaf children and adults with cochlear implants and hearing aids. She was able to borrow a cochlear implant until replacement devices can be arranged. Ofele has health insurance and is waiting to learn whether it covers her cochlear implant. "If they pay that's good, but if not ..."
Rotorua police area prevention manager Brendon Keenan said police regularly got reports of thefts from Hot and Cold and other tourist locations, particularly ones that were isolated. "Tourists may not know the dangers of a popular hotspot.” Keenan said the tourists got clear images of the licence plates in their GoPro footage of Ofele's theft. "We are still making inquiries and following up leads with some strong suspects."