Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's police reporter.

Against the odds: Czech woman's month-long wait for help in the New Zealand wilderness

• Pavlina Pizova watched her partner, Ondrej Petr, 27, fall and die on the Routeburn Track.

• She crawled for three days to the sanctuary of a warden's hut.

• There she waited for four weeks, suffering frostbite and hypothermia until her rescue yesterday.

• She used fire ash to mark a giant "H" in the chest-deep snow.

She watched her partner fall to his death and then crawled for three days through snow and rugged terrain before finding shelter.

But Pavlina Pizova's ordeal was far from over.

The Czech tourist spent four weeks alone in the isolated warden's hut at Lake Mackenzie, unable to leave because of physical injuries and fear.

Found yesterday, frostbitten and with hypothermia, her incredible tale of survival has been labelled "courageous" and "resilient".

Like most horror stories, the couple's journey began in an idyllic setting, the 32km Routeburn Track in southern New Zealand.

One of the Great Walks, it overlaps Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks and showcases the best of the country's alpine scenery - soaring, snow-capped mountains, huge valleys and cascading waterfalls.

Pavlina Pizova loves the outdoors. Photo / Facebook
Pavlina Pizova loves the outdoors. Photo / Facebook

AN IDYLLIC HOLIDAY

Pizova, in her early 30s, and her friend, Ondrej Petr, 27, arrived in New Zealand in February.

With working holiday visas and plans to work on a farm near Dunedin, they set about making the most of their new surroundings.

According to their Facebook pages, they are both outdoor lovers.

Pizova is believed to be from the small town of Police nad Metují, near the Polish border. It had a population of 4300 in 2007.

Photos show the woman atop alpine rocks, with sweeping views of the wilderness in the background.

Petr's profile is strikingly similar. He was from Nove Mesto nad Metuji, 30km south of Pizova's town,

He climbed rocks barefoot, shirtless and posted photos of his intended travel destinations.

A post from September 2015 carries the hashtags #liveyourdream! #NewZealandAustralia2016+17

The pair set out on the Routeburn Track on July 26, leaving their car at the Glenorchy end of the track near Queenstown.

They started their journey despite being warned off by Department of Conservation staff, having no tent or locator beacon and telling no one of their plans.

After just one night on the track in freezing conditions including falling snow, strong winds and heavy fog they slipped about 7m down a steep slope.

Petr fell further and became pinned between rocks and vegetation.

Vladka Kennett, Consul for the Czech Republic, told NZME how Pizova tried but failed to reach her friend, and heard him take his last breath.

Pizova and partner Ondrej Petr. Photo / Supplied
Pizova and partner Ondrej Petr. Photo / Supplied

She said the woman spent three days wandering through the wilderness trying to find help, before she came across the warden's hut at Lake Mackenzie.

She broke in through a window and found four bunks and cooking and heating facilities.

There was a radio in the hut, but she was unable to make it work.

There was also some food, but DoC had been careful not to leave too much over winter for fear of attracting rodents.

WAITING FOR A MIRACLE

Extreme and severe conditions, including heavy snow and the risk of avalanche, along with her minor injuries - frostbite and possible hypothermia - prevented Pizova from walking to safety.

No other trampers passed through the area; the track was officially closed for winter.

Police and DoC yesterday praised her for not trying to get out on her own.

"Her last decision was a very good decision - just to hunker down and wait for somebody to come along," said DoC Wakatipu operations manager Geoff Owen.

And it has now emerged a Facebook message helped spark the rescue mission for Pizova after her extraordinary ordeal.

The alarm was finally raised on Wednesday by Kennett after messages were noticed on social media from concerned friends and family back home.

Car registration details and photos were sent through, and Queenstown-based Kennett contacted police on Wednesday, 29 days after the pair set out on their trip.

The same day, a helicopter crew spotted the giant "H" Pizova had written in the snow with fire ash, and she was finally rescued.

Pavlina Pizova from Facebook. Photo / via Facebook
Pavlina Pizova from Facebook. Photo / via Facebook

A 'HARROWING' ORDEAL

Pizova spoke publicly for the first time today, supported by Kennett.

Looking nervous and pale, she spoke softly in a heavy accent.

She said the ordeal was "harrowing". She said her tramping partner falling and dying was a "tragic accident".

"After his death it took three nights in the open before I reached the safety of the hut. I was walking through waist-deep snow and, because of that, the track lines were covered.

"My feet were frozen."

Because of her health and the weather, she thought it was best to "stay in a safe place".

"I made a few attempts to leave the hut but because of the weather and my physical conditions, it discouraged me from doing so."

She took the opportunity to send safety messages to "anyone travelling in the New Zealand mountains".

"We made a few mistakes with not leaving out intentions with somebody and not carrying a PLB [personal locator beacon] and underestimating the conditions of the track."

She thanked her rescuers.

She broke down in tears towards the end of her statement, which she read from a sheet of paper. It was too harrowing to go into too many details about the ordeal, she said.

"The conditions were extreme," she said.

Kennett said Pizova's ordeal was unbelievable.

"I don't understand it myself. I think she is a very strong woman. She just tried everything to survive. Tried to warm her feet up, keep moving her feet and hands, put everything she could find on her feet and body."

"It's too difficult to describe emotions like that. She went up to the public hut and made a fire there.

"She made a few attempts as she said to walk out of the hut but because of the situation she was in, her physical conditions and the snow, she always went back.

"She only made it a few hundred metres and went back.

"As you can imagine if you're stuck somewhere for a month you would be very relieved, quite happy [to be rescued]."

The woman and her partner's families were sticking together, she said.

The trampers were partners in New Zealand on a working holiday, she said.

Pizova was very resourceful. "I give her enormous credit. She used whatever she could find."

It was "very important" for Pizova to get her partner's body back, and for the families.

A police spokesman accompanied the pair at the conference. He expressed disappointment at "unhelpful comments" that were circulating about the ordeal.

Kennett said the comments were not affecting Pizova. "She is such a brave person, she is above it all. She just ignores it all."

Pizova was dressed in a thermal top and tramping pants, with tramping boots.

Petr's body was today recovered by Search and Rescue and the death had been referred to the Coroner.

- NZ Herald

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