Three tourists on a West Coast tramp narrowly avoided spending last night lost in bush in near-freezing temperatures after rescuers glimpsed a flickering flashlight.

The trio were hiking the Roberts Point track near Franz Josef Glacier when they decided to leave it to find a waterfall.

After climbing up to about 490m above sea level, they became disoriented and "bluffed" - unable to get down due to the steepness of the cliffs.

Police received a call around 3pm from the trampers, and a small team of volunteers from South Westland Land Search and Rescue and Franz Josef Glacier Guides began the search.

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Whistles helped them locate the group reasonably quickly but the search team was hampered by the dense bush and took around two hours to reach the group.

As darkness fell, the party's torch flickering across the valley helped a second team of rescuers assist with directions.

The group were "lightly but adequately equipped for a day tramp" and in good spirits when located, and were able to walk out in darkness with the assistance of the search team, police said in a statement.

The search was completed about 6pm.

The group was lucky the weather was good, police said.

Search and Rescue is reminding people to plan carefully for trips, as it gets colder and days get shorter during winter. They are reminded to seek local knowledge and plan a route before heading out.