An American woman lost in the bush for four freezing nights with her mother says she was so close to death she became delusional, losing all feeling in her legs and arms, as well as her sight and hearing.
When Rachel Lloyd, 22, and her mother, Carolyn, eventually saw her rescuer in the helicopter above it was so surreal it felt like an illusion, Miss Lloyd told the Herald from her Wellington Hospital bed today.
"[Ambulance staff] said if I was out there for a couple more hours I probably wouldn't have made it. I was losing all my senses, I couldn't see, I couldn't hear, I lost all feeling in my legs and my arms and I was completely delusional."
Four days earlier, on Tuesday, the pair had set off to do a day trek - approximately six to eight hours - of the Kapakapanui Track, in the Tararua Forest Park near Waikanae.
"I really wanted mum to get the New Zealand experience of hiking ... we started off and everything was fine, we got to the summit and we were following orange markers and then the orange markers kind of disappeared and then there was blue markers ... and we started heading down the mountain and we got extremely deep and it wasn't the right way and there was no way to climb back up, so we kept going down until the blue markers completely stopped but at that point we couldn't get back up because it was way too steep."
The pair ended up hunkering down, lying on top of each other, on a narrow ledge - about 40cm wide - which overlooked a "giant, gushing stream".
"It was very scary, we kept each other awake all night and then we woke up in the morning and tried to work our way down and ended up climbing down the side, there was a waterfall and we were holding on to anything that we could find.."
Miss Lloyd said she ended up falling in the freezing water, before losing all feeling in her arms and legs.
Her mother carried her for periods of time before they found an open area with grass where they made a bed of ferns to try and keep warm for the night.
The next morning, they made their way down the stream again however the water got too deep. They turned around and eventually found a crevice with an open area where they stayed for the next two nights until they were rescued.
"Mum woke up Friday morning and made that 'Help' sign and we stayed there Friday night as well."
They had heard several planes fly overhead during their time in the bush, but on Saturday they heard a helicopter.
"It landed and it was very surreal ... I honestly felt like when I was sleeping I was having a few dreams and I felt like I had died and it was another illusion. ... it was one of the happiest moments of my life."
She says they survived on the rations that they had brought for their day trip and by Saturday were eating just three peanuts each.
She was forever grateful to her rescuers, hospital, university and US Embassy staff, but also to her mother who she credits with saving her life.
"There's not another person on earth that I would rather have been with, she is the most remarkable woman I have ever met in my life and if I can be a tenth of the woman that she is one day I would be honoured. She's the reason why I'm alive right now."