|Photo courtesy of Nicole Harding|
"They took us to this hotel, which, in New Zealand, I would liken to a prison cell. There were guys out the front with machine guns and dogs," she said.
The 22-year-old nursing student added that the room was "crawling with bugs" and only had one double-sized bed with a thin mattress on a concrete floor which was to be shared by three people.
The incident took place in Cagayan de Oro, where most of the pageant's heats are being held. The contestants had spent a couple of days at a 5-star hotel in Manila prior to flying to CdeO. They are scheduled to go back to the capital city for the coronation night.
Harding only got more afraid about her safety when a government official told her that the area was not safe.
"We met with the Cagayan governor and he said it was not safe to be here, this place is more unsafe than Afghanistan," she was quoted as saying. "He told us, where we were, they kidnap people and use them as sex slaves, it's the number one place for human trafficking and we needed to get these girls out of here."
Together with Miss USA, Ashely Clark, Harding decided to leave the competition and traveled back to Manila where they arranged their flights back to their home countries.
According to them, at least three other contestants also pulled out from the beauty contest because of security concerns and poor organization.
"Unfortunately I am having to leave the Miss Pancontinental pageant early," Harding wrote in a Facebook post. "Due to my safety and security the New Zealand Embassy has decided that it is best if I fly back to New Zealand. I'm saddened that this has to come to an end as I have worked so hard to get here but with the lack of organization, climate and security it is unsafe for me to be here any longer. Thank you to everyone that has been there to support me through this experience and I am looking forward to touching down in New Zealand and seeing all of my friends and family!"