Missing tourist didn't know the risks

By Patrice Dougan

One police team searched throughout the night and six more search teams were deployed early this morning. Photo / Thinkstock
One police team searched throughout the night and six more search teams were deployed early this morning. Photo / Thinkstock

A Chinese backpacker who survived three days missing in the bush says he might buy a Lotto ticket to test his luck.

Cheng Chen, 28, went for a walk in National Park, Ruapehu, on Sunday but lost his way and spent three days in the bush, without food or equipment, as poor weather closed in.

A search team found him on Wednesday afternoon on the outskirts of National Park.

He was discharged from Taumarunui Hospital today after receiving treatment for exhaustion and exposure to the cold.

Mr Chen acknowledged some people would describe him as lucky to have survived the experience.

"I'm going to buy a Lotto ticket, if I win a prize that should prove if I'm lucky," he said.

Now would be a good time, with tonight's Lotto jackpot standing at $32 million.

However, Mr Chen declined to elaborate further on his experience, saying it was embarrassing.

"I went to see a waterfall and got lost in the National Park without food, without water, no hiking gear, and nearly died," he said.

The alarm was raised about noon on Tuesday by the owner of the accommodation where Mr Chen had been staying. He had not been seen since before he went for a walk in the Tupapakura Falls Track area on Sunday.

There was concern for his wellbeing, with reports that he was unprepared for the stormy weather that struck the North Island earlier this week.

After Mr Chen was rescued, search co-ordinator Sergeant Colin Wright, said he was lucky to have survived.

The Chinese tourist said he had enjoyed walking in Queenstown and Mt Cook and thought he would take in some hikes at the National Park during his stay, despite staff at the backpackers accommodation warning him conditions on Sunday were not ideal.

He also admitted to misunderstanding the word 'bush' as meaning a small plant, and "did not know that bushes are very dangerous places to go".

After reaching the waterfall look-out point after a couple of hours, he lost his way attempting to retrace his steps.

"When I went in I didn't see those signs, and on the way out I saw many markers I didn't see before, so I got lost," he said.

He said he kept walking "aimlessly" hoping to find his way out, but it quickly became dark, and with no mobile-phone signal he was forced to take refuge in a hollowed out tree stump.

The next day he continued walking, consulting maps and signs along the way trying to establish the way out of the park, but to no avail.

"It was straight-forward to the look-out point but it wasn't straight-forward back to the entrance," he said. "I could not even find the way out, so I was bewildered for a while."

He said he didn't "think too much" about his situation, but concentrated on walking. However, he admitted during the second night alone, sheltering under a rock in wet clothes, he began to feel "superstitious" and suffered strange dreams and hallucinations.

"I didn't have much energy left," he said.

Mr Chen praised New Zealanders for their generosity and for saving his life, describing them as "good natured" and "amazing".

"The people who saved me, I had never seen them before, and I was told they were volunteers, they had jobs and had their lives, but .. went to the National Park and searched for me," he said.

"I'm very grateful to them."

- APNZ

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