A jogger lost for two days in the wind and rain-swept Tararua Range devoured a jar of peanut butter and some instant soup after stumbling upon a hut before being rescued today.
Wellington runner Alastair Shelton says at his lowest ebb he feared he would die in the mountains.
The 33-year-old took shelter under an overhanging boulder on his first night in the wild after becoming hopelessly disorientated while on a more than 20km run of the Mt Holdsworth Jumbo Circuit Track on Saturday. He talked to himself to keep his spirits up as a rescue team of 95 searches and three helicopters searched the hills.
"I was thinking of my children all the time, all the time. The thought of them and not coming back for them was unthinkable."
Sporting cuts to his hands and face, and a broken toe, Mr Shelton was this morning reunited in tearful scenes with partner Juliane Jutz and his daughters Clara, 11 months, and Luisa, 3, at Hood Aerodrome in Masterton.
His brother Dougal, sister Harriet and father Roger Shelton, and mother Rachel McCahon were also on hand for his emotional return.
Searches' tireless efforts were rewarded about 10.30am today when Wairarapa chopper pilot Jarod Angland found and flew the father-of-two from Mt Isabelle.
Mr Shelton said he broke his toe only hours after losing his way on Saturday. After surviving a night in the open, when temperatures hovered only a few degrees above zero, he had followed the Waiohine River in hopes "it would take me where I needed to go".
His lowest point came yesterday afternoon while making his way to the Waiohine Hut in the midst of torrential rain and high winds that thwarted search crews and grounded the helicopters.
The shelter, and any provisions at the hut, would be his last chance at making it out of the ranges alive, he said.
"Yeah, I thought I might die - I thought this could be that serious," he said.
"That was about 2pm on Sunday afternoon. It was raining really heavily and I couldn't find the hut.
"Just everywhere there was cloud hanging down and rain teeming down and you couldn't see more than a few metres in any direction in the bush. I thought I knew where I was going but I wasn't really sure.
"I was talking to myself. Just telling myself to keep going and keep following this river. Keep moving. I'm not a religious person, but there might have been a prayer even.
"I'd tried everything else at that point."
Mr Shelton said about two hours later he found the hut, where he wolfed down a jar of peanut butter and instant soup he found at the shelter. He spent the night dry and relatively warm and penned a note to searchers telling of his route and destination when he left today.
His children were never far from his mind throughout the ordeal and helped keep him determined and confident despite his plight, he said.
The family thanked police and the numerous volunteers involved in the search and Mr Shelton's father said he was relieved beyond words after battling fears over the weekend that his youngest son was doomed.
"We've all been through hell."
Mr Shelton promised his partner, at her insistence, he would abandon lone mountain running and their reunion was sealed, amid tears of relief, when their children were brought to the base about 10 minutes later.
Senior Sergeant Tony Matheson said searches found Mr Shelton just as he began a three hour walk out of the forest.
He had become disoriented in the South King area - a high point in the Tararua Forest Park - and ended up in the centre of the park, rather than heading out in the opposite direction.
"He ended up in the head waters of the Waiohine River, which was at times in flood, and he's taken a couple of falls at various times.
"He said at one point he had a particularly nasty experience in the river where he went under."
Wet and lost, he managed to use his map to figure out he was in the Waiohine Valley before finding the hut.
Mr Shelton told police he knew he had made some mistakes.
"He knows there's some issues in relation to equipment, in relation to making sure that his intentions are clearly outlined to people waiting to him.
"He'll be certainly changing a few things and how he goes about things in the future."
- APNZBy Hana Garrett-Walker Email Hana, Nathan Crombie of the Wairarapa Times-Age