A man accused of stealing a car with a 16-month-old child inside has appeared in Whakatane District Court.
Whakatane Senior Sergeant Yvonne Parker said the woman had parked her car in a driveway in Taneatua, Eastern Bay of Plenty, and left her child in the carseat while she went inside a house.
"When she returned from being inside the child and the vehicle were stolen.
"In between times the child had been left with a pedestrian and police were also then able to return the child to the mother."
The car was located a short time later and the child was found unharmed at a nearby address, she said.
Locals have told RNZ News the mother and neighbours frantically searched for the child before the 16-month-old was handed over at a social worker's house hours later.
A 25-year-old man has appeared in Whakatane District Court charged with unlawfully taking a vehicle, driving while disqualified and with excess breath alcohol, and assaulting a police officer.
Ms Parker said the accused man did not know the mother and child.
He will appear in court again tomorrow.