The last few metres separating missing hunter Siow Hong Kuik with his family and friends were hard trodden as tears ran unashamedly down the Manurewa man's weary face.
An emotional Mr Kuik held out his arms to Whakatane LandSAR co-ordinator Dale Walker early this evening minutes after he jumped out of the helicopter that had brought him in from the rugged Te Urewera bush where he had been lost for three days.
Mr Kuik, known as Desmond, a 42-year-old father of three, was last seen at 4pm on Sunday before searchers finally caught up with him at 1.30pm today.
During his time in the bush, Mr Kuik had walked about 12km "as the crow files", but searchers believe he would have covered at least three times that distance as he tried valiantly to return to the campsite he and two hunting companions had set up on Sunday.
Whakatane police Senior Sergeant Bruce Jenkins said the hunter had continued in a south easterly direction the entire time he was lost. "He was getting close to the Waioeka area, meaning he was walking toward Gisborne when we found him," Mr Jenkins said.
Mr Kuik told family, friends and volunteers he was extremely tired before being lead to the kai (food) table at Matahi Valley's Whakarae Marae that had provided sustenance for the 60-odd volunteers involved in the search since it began.
Mr Kuik made the decision to go on a three-to-four hour hunt at 4pm on Sunday, leaving his two hunting companions at their camp and set off on foot. When he failed to return, his two hunting companions raised the alarm with locals and together they searched for the hunter until about midnight.
Clues to his whereabouts were found on Monday when a search crew on horseback went well beyond the search area to the Kouanui Hut and found a note left by the hunter.
LandSAR president Ray Walker said once the team knew he had spent a night in the hut on Monday and had eaten, fears for his life eased.
"We were initially most concerned about the swollen rivers and thought there was a real possibility he had fallen into water and drowned," Mr Walker said. "But when we found the note and realised he had eaten and spent a warm night at the hut, we knew that would have brought him up."
Yesterday aftrenoon five crews were in the area co-ordinators believed Mr Kuik would be, and by triangulating themselves and calling to the hunter, they were able to finally find him.
"The crews heard I'm here, I'm here, being repeated and knew they had found their man," Mr Walker said. Mr Kuik was re-hydrated, and given food before being walked to a point where the helicopter could land. Police took him to Whakatane Hospital by car for assessment.
Mr Kuik's wife, who remained in Manurewa during the ordeal, was quickly told her husband had been found. According to his hunting companion, only known as Daniel, and a cousin who had travelled from Auckland, Mrs Kuik was overjoyed with the news.
Mr Kuik is a cake baker by trade and, for the past eight years, has owned and operated a specialty cake shop in Auckland. His family say he makes an exceptional mud cake and makes pavlova as good as any Kiwi.
He has promised Whakatane LandSAR a lifetime supply of mudcakes.
Mr Jenkins praised everyone involved in the search including the Matahi Valley locals who he described as fantastic. "There's been so many volunteer hours go into this operation and it's so great to have such a positive outcome."
2:05pm story: A hunter will soon be reunited with his wife and three young children thanks to search and rescue teams who found him after three days lost in the bush.
Siow Hong Kuik, known as Desmond, was last seen on Sunday afternoon when he left his hunting party at their camp near the Waititi Stream presumably to go on a lone hunt.
Searchers yesterday found indicators tracking towards Kouanui Hut, including broken ferns and sticks placed in arrows. At the hut Desmond had left a note saying he was lost but had sourced some food.
Shortly after 1.30 this afternoon Desmond was found alive and well by search teams and arrangements are currently being made to fly him out. He will then be medically assessed.
Police said they would like to take this opportunity to remind anyone going into the bush of the importance of taking some basic safety measures.
• Always tell someone what your plans are. Tell them where you intend to go
and when you expect to get back.
• Make sure you have sufficient food and clothing for your trip; factoring
in the possibility of getting lost or a change in weather conditions.
• Carry a compass or GPS system
• Carry a form of communication; preferably a personal tracker system such
as a SPOT device.
• If you find yourself lost, try to leave a trail. Search and rescue
experts will look for indicators such as broken foliage, footprints and arrows.
• If you get yourself to a location where you are safe and have shelter,
such as a hut, stay where you are. The more you move the harder you make it for the search teams to locate you.
• However experienced you think you are in the bush, don't underestimate
2:05pm story: A hunter who has been missing since Sunday has this afternoon been found alive and well.
Siow Hong Kuik, known as Desmond, was last seen on Sunday afternoon when he left his hunting party at their camp near the Waititi Stream presumably to go on a lone hunt. When he didn't return his friends went looking for him and then raised the alarm.
The hunter was found early this afternoon and police search crews are currently working on a plan to get him out of the bush.
Yesterday teams of police and Whakatane LandSAR volunteers searched the area on foot and on horseback as well as utilising two police dogs, two kayaks, and a helicopter. Aware that Mr Kuik's philosophy when lost is to head down river, the search teams initially concentrated on areas adjacent to the Waititi Stream.
Yesterday afternoon a note was discovered in Kouanui Hut which was dated October 22. It indicated that he was lost but had some food he had found in the hut. The lukewarm remains of a fire also suggested he had stayed at the hut overnight Monday.
Today police and LandSAR volunteers from Rotorua joined the search. Approximately 40 people were involved in total.
AREC (Amateur Radio Emergency Communications) were also used to help and the local marae and community have been helping with the search and keeping everyone involved in the operation feed and watered.
Senior Sergeant Bruce Jenkins said earlier today before Mr Kuik was found that search teams would never give up hope in these situations.
". . . finding the note has further motivated the teams. It has been a very cold night but we have a clear day with no adverse weather which will at least help the search teams cover some more ground."
Mr Kuik is a relatively experienced hunter who has been to the area several times before. He is also relatively fit but wasn't equipped for being in the bush for any length of time. He had no communication, GPS or compass with him.