Wedding anniversary holiday comes to crashing end

Haruru Falls in the Bay of Islands. Photo / Chris Skelton
Haruru Falls in the Bay of Islands. Photo / Chris Skelton

An Australian woman's 40th wedding anniversary holiday came to a crashing end when she fell down a flight of steps at a New Zealand tourist hotspot.

Heather Carblis and her husband, Paul, had been in New Zealand for barely 24 hours when they visited Haruru Falls, near Pahia in the Bay of Islands.

As Mrs Carblis was ascending a staircase, she took a tumble because of a missing step and seriously injured her right arm.

The 60-year-old was discharged from hospital only today, having been there since her fall on January 10.

She blames the accident on poor maintenance and a lack of signs advising of the missing step, but the Waitangi National Trust, which administers the land, says it regularly checks the area to make sure everything is safe.

Haruru Falls track. Photo / Chris Skelton
Haruru Falls track. Photo / Chris Skelton

After two operations, Mrs Carblis now faces three months off work and is worried about what will happen when she returns to Australia on Wednesday.

She told NZME today that she won't be able to go back to her home in Alice Springs straight away and will instead stay with her daughter Kelley Carter, who lives north of Sydney and has come to New Zealand to help look after her.

"The whole thing is very traumatic for me at the moment," Mrs Carblis said. "I can't even face to go down stairs. Even at the hospital we had to go down to another department, and it's got me a bit rattled at the moment."

Mrs Carblis is also upset about losing her income as a teacher assistant and school administrator.

The Accident Compensation Corporation and her travel insurance have taken care of her on this side of the Tasman, but it's not the same in Australia. That country's Medicare scheme can cover a large percentage of her medical expenses there, but she will need to discuss with the Department of Human Services how she can recover her lost income.

The family are considering seeking legal advice on the possibility of claiming compensation, but New Zealand's non-liability laws may stymie that.

Mrs Carblis is in the early, painful, stages of her recovery and isn't sure if she'll regain full movement in her injured arm.

"I've got young grandchildren. Before I came on this holiday, I could have swung them around and played with them. Now I don't even know if I'll be able to pick them up."

She recalled the terrifying fall and its bloody aftermath, saying she was on the fifth step in a flight.

"I went to step on to the next one and there was nothing."

Mrs Carblis' arm was gashed on treated pine - a 14cm wound. She said her surgeon said it looked like a knife had gone through her and it was amazing it hadn't struck an artery.

She had damaged tendons and a dislocated and cracked elbow.

"If your step is missing, then that's bad maintenance," she said. "It was quite obvious the step hadn't just disappeared the day before. There were other people there and they all made the comment that it's been gone for a while."

Waitangi National Trust chief executive Greg McManus did not accept the stairs were in poor shape.

"The walking track and the stairs are properly maintained as best we can given the track is a public walking track through native bush with all the inherent risks of walking in the New Zealand bush.

"There are plenty of signs warning people to take care throughout, and our staff check the condition of the track and the steps twice weekly. The steps were routinely checked on the Friday before the lady had her accident and they were fine. On the following Monday, when they were checked again, there was a step out of place and it was immediately repaired."

Mr McManus said the trust has apologised to Mrs Carblis and was sorry that her holiday had been interrupted.

"We will not be offering compensation as her treatment and rehabilitation are fully covered by New Zealand's no-fault ACC system and we assume the lady has travel insurance to cover any other expenses."

Mr McManus said the trust wasn't aware of any other incidents in the area.

- NZ Herald

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