Hiker ‘lucky to be alive’ af­ter 20m wa­ter­fall drop

The Northern Advocate - - Local News - Peter de Graaf

A 24-year-old Ger­man woman is “ex­tremely lucky” to be alive af­ter fall­ing down a 20m wa­ter­fall in the dark in Far North bush, res­cuers say.

The woman, who is hik­ing the Te Araroa trail from Cape Reinga to Bluff, lost her way on Wed­nes­day evening in the rugged Raetea For­est, south of Kaitaia.

About 9pm she tum­bled down a wa­ter­fall. De­spite min­i­mal cell­phone cov­er­age, she was able to call 111 and briefly re­port her predica­ment be­fore her phone cut out.

Sergeant Jim Adam­son, of North­land po­lice Search and Res­cue, de­scribed the ter­rain in Raetea For­est as “re­ally chal­leng­ing”.

“There’s a lot of tree falls and mud, and in places you wouldn’t even know it was a track.”

The call was enough to get a fix on her lo­ca­tion in the Manga­muka Ranges west of State High­way 1.

A team of six po­lice and five vol­un­teers from Kerikeri-based Far North LandSAR (Search and Res­cue) were de­ployed at first light from Mak­ene Rd, near Manga­muka, and found her shortly be­fore noon. She was about an hour’s walk off the trail.

Res­cuers car­ried her gear but she was able to walk out. It took about four hours to get back to the road where she was as­sessed by a St John Am­bu­lance medic. She had bumps, bruises, scrapes and one eye was swollen shut, but she did not re­quire hos­pi­tal treat­ment.

Adam­son de­scribed her as re­mark­ably tough and stoic. She was dropped off that evening at ac­com­mo­da­tion in Kerikeri.

Po­lice had car­ried out five searches in the steep, rugged Raetea For­est last year alone. Peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mated just how dif­fi­cult it was.

“Once you’re 50m off the track, you might as well be a mile,” Adam­son said.

He urged tram­pers to al­ways take a com­pan­ion, as well as a map or GPS, and ad­e­quate food and cloth­ing.

“If she’d knocked her­self out, or was un­able to phone us, we never would have found her.”

Tram­pers in re­mote ar­eas should also con­sider car­ry­ing an emer­gency lo­ca­tor bea­con, he said.

Far North LandSAR pres­i­dent Ian Rud­dell said the woman had got lost af­ter miss­ing a turn-off in the vicin­ity of Mt Kume­te­whi­whia.

She was “ex­tremely lucky” to be alive, and to have had enough cell­phone cov­er­age to make the ini­tial 111 call.

His ad­vice to lost tram­pers was to stop and think.

“She was walk­ing at 9pm, with a full pack, and she’s gone over a wa­ter­fall . . .

“If you are lost, stop, think, make a cup of tea, and come up with a plan. If you have phone cov­er­age at that point, call 111 and don’t make your sit­u­a­tion worse by walk­ing in the dark.”

Peo­ple who went tramp­ing alone should make sure some­one knew where they were go­ing and when they were ex­pected out, so au­thor­i­ties could be in­formed promptly if they were miss­ing.

The woman didn’t want to talk yes­ter­day but it is un­der­stood she plans to con­tinue Te Araroa, pos­si­bly as early as this week­end.

Te Araroa is a 3000km trail link­ing mostly pre-ex­ist­ing tracks and takes about five months to com­plete. The first sec­tion, from Kerikeri to Wai­tangi, was opened in 1995, the full trail opened in 2011. More than 500 peo­ple walked the full dis­tance in the 2016-17 sum­mer sea­son.

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