A 24-year-old German woman is ''extremely lucky'' to be alive after falling down a 20-metre waterfall in the dark in Far North bush, rescuers say.

The woman, who is hiking the Te Araroa trail from Cape Reinga to Bluff, lost her way on Wednesday evening in the rugged Raetea Forest south of Kaitaia.

About 9pm she tumbled down a waterfall. Despite minimal cellphone coverage she was able to call 111 and briefly inform the call-taker of her predicament before her phone cut out.

Sergeant Jim Adamson, of Northland police Search and Rescue, described the terrain in Raetea Forest as ''really challenging''.

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''There's a lot of tree falls and mud, and in places you wouldn't even know it was a track.''

The 24-year-old German tramper fell down this 20m-high waterfall in the rugged Raetea Forest. Photo / Far North LandSAR
The 24-year-old German tramper fell down this 20m-high waterfall in the rugged Raetea Forest. Photo / Far North LandSAR

Repeated attempts to phone the woman back were unsuccessful but the initial call was enough to get a fix on her location in the Mangamuka Ranges west of State Highway 1.

A team of six police and five volunteers from Kerikeri-based Far North LandSAR (Search and Rescue) were deployed at first light from Makene Rd, near Mangamuka, and found her shortly before noon. She was about an hour's walk off the trail.

Rescuers carried her gear but she was able to walk out. It took about four hours to get back to the road where she was assessed by a St John medic. She had bumps, bruises, scrapes and one eye was swollen shut, but she did not require hospital treatment.

Adamson described her as remarkably tough and stoic. She was dropped off that evening at accommodation in Kerikeri.

Police had carried out five searches in the steep, rugged Raetea Forest last year alone. People underestimated just how difficult it was.

''Once you're 50m off the track you might as well be a mile,'' Adamson said.

He urged trampers to always take a companion, as well as a map or GPS, and adequate food and clothing.

''If she'd knocked herself out, or was unable to phone us, we never would have found her.''

Trampers in remote areas should also consider carrying an emergency locator beacon, he said.

Far North LandSAR president Ian Ruddell said the woman had got lost after missing a turn-off in the vicinity of Mt Kumetewhiwhia.

She was ''extremely lucky'' to be alive, and to have had enough cellphone coverage to make the initial 111 call.

His advice to lost trampers was stop and think.

''She was walking at 9pm, with a full pack, and she's gone over a waterfall ... If you are lost, stop, think, make a cup of tea, and come up with a plan. If you have phone coverage at that point, call 111 and don't make your situation worse by walking in the dark."

People who went tramping alone should make sure someone knew where they were going and when they were expected out, so authorities could be informed promptly if they were missing.

The woman didn't want to talk yesterday but it is understood she plans to continue Te Araroa, possibly as early as this weekend.

Te Araroa is a 3000km trail linking mostly pre-existing tracks and takes about five months to complete. The first section, from Kerikeri to Waitangi, was opened in 1995; the full trail opened in 2011. More than 500 people walked the full distance in the 2016-17 summer season.