An Australian couple at the centre of a seven-hour cliff rescue drama say they are hugely grateful to the emergency services that pulled together to save them.
Geoff and Narelle Beveridge, from Newcastle in New South Wales, say the experience has also given them lifelong friends in Russell and they're already planning to come back — but in more relaxed circumstances next time.
Geoff, a 63-year-old mechanic, had to be rescued after getting stuck halfway up a cliff between Long Beach and Tapeka Pt in Russell.
The couple, who are nearing the end of a four-week New Zealand holiday, had planned a catamaran trip on Monday but when it was cancelled they decided to walk to a World War II gun emplacement at Donkey Bay they'd read about in a brochure.
Staff at the campground told them to be careful but Geoff figured with another two to three hours of low tide they'd have plenty of time.
At one point Narelle wanted to turn around but Geoff was convinced they'd get back to Russell once they rounded the next headland.
Eventually, however, they found their way blocked by cliffs and surging water. They couldn't go back because the tide had come in behind them, so the only way out was to scramble up the cliff.
They assumed the terrain would level out once they clambered higher but if anything it got worse with gorse and crumbling rock offering little to hold on to.
Geoff was about 80m up, according to police estimates, when he realised he could go neither up nor down.
''I was between a rock and a hard place. If I'd slipped there was nothing to stop me.''
He called out to Narelle, who was some way behind, and asked her to call for help. They had some difficulty hearing each other so there was some yelling to and fro at first.
Narelle said, ''That's bloody ridiculous, just come down'. But he said, 'I can't go up or down'.''
Narelle, who was also ''hanging on by her fingertips'', managed to climb down. Then, fuelled by adrenaline, she ran back towards Donkey Bay and scrambled up an overgrown ravine — grateful that New Zealand has no snakes — to a lookout platform and from there to a building site.
In the meantime Geoff had managed to call 111. It was 1.23pm. He had one foot on a flimsy tree root so he was trying to lean against the cliff and keep his weight on his back.
The rock was so crumbly he couldn't get a handhold. Narelle had their backpack with food, water and his jacket.
''I just had to make sure I didn't drop my phone, that was my lifeline. I was pretty calm. I knew I couldn't move.''
When he started to get cramp he'd rotate his foot, remembering the lessons he'd learnt at a yoga class in the South Island a week earlier about dealing with discomfort.
There was some confusion about Geoff's location — he was eventually spotted from Tapeka Pt by local cop Mike Gorrie — and by 4pm he still hadn't seen anyone.
''So I called the fire brigade again and said, 'Mate, do you think I should try coming down?' He said, 'Stay where you are'.''
Meanwhile, Narelle had been taken in by a ''beautiful lady'' (Tapeka resident Bridget Hughes), who made her dinner, let her take a shower and gave her wine and cheese. Paihia firefighter Michael Fayne kept her up to date with the rescue's painstaking progress.
''I thought he was going to fall and break his neck,'' she said.
Finally, around 5pm, Geoff saw a head pop out of the gorse about 60m away, on the other side of a sheer cliff. He couldn't be seen from the top so the rescue team misjudged the first time they descended on two 50m lengths of rope.
By then it was getting dark and Geoff again contemplated trying to climb down, but about 6.30pm a member of Northland Search and Rescue's Whangārei-based cliff rescue squad reached him by abseiling down the cliff.
Even getting into the harness proved difficult in Geoff's precarious position but eventually the two men were winched up the cliff, a metre at a time. They reached the top just before 8pm.
''I felt like a goose. I knew I would've broken bones if I'd fallen but I didn't realise how much danger I was in until then. It was really humbling, they way all those people came together and knowing I'd tied up so many resources,'' he said.
''I just want to commend the way Search and Rescue, the Fire Service and police all worked together and got me back up.''
Geoff did not need medical treatment. Once at the top he and his rescuers tucked into a meal delivered by the Duke of Marlborough Hotel.
The couple left Russell yesterday and head home this weekend. They plan to return to Northland and make a donation to the volunteer groups involved in the rescue.
''We really grateful to them and very aware it could have been a lot worse,'' Narelle said.
''We've made life-time friends here. We'll never forget Russell.''
Groups involved in the rescue included police, Northland Cliff Rescue Team (part of Northland Land Search and Rescue based in Whangārei), and the Russell and Paihia fire brigades.