The group of people trapped on a walking track in Piha when floodwaters cut them off from their cars wandered for hours in the rain trying to find a way out.
Colin Ennor and his friends, two of whom were from Mexico and have only been in New Zealand for two days, were caught out by sudden flooding during an easy stroll to the Kitekite falls.
They were among about 20 people who were stranded on the set of walking tracks when thunderstorms struck Piha, flooding homes and businesses and setting cars afloat.
"It turned from a gentle stroll in our jandals and T-shirts into a three hour experience of survival," said Ennor, who described huddling together with other groups of trapped walkers for warmth during the ordeal.
The walk to the waterfall from the carpark was only about half an hour, he said.
"As soon as we got there it starting raining really heavily."
The group decided to head back to the car, but soon discovered what had been a low, nearly dry creek less than an hour earlier was now a raging torrent that would have been over their heads had they tried to cross.
"The river had risen so high that there was no way out, as in, like, the river was above your head if you even tried to get through it."
Over the next few hours as the group tried to find another way out, they banded together with three other groups, making up about 18 people in total.
"We ended up walking for about two hours because we couldn't find a way out. Everywhere we went to walk was completely blocked by flooding. After walking for another hour and a half we ended up standing, trying to figure out how to get out of there."
The group spent an hour trying to find a spot where they had cellphone reception to call for help, and when they did only one person's cellphone was able to get one bar.
"The group was all wet and cold and shivering. Everyone was freezing cold."
The group huddled together with people wearing jackets on the outside and people wearing only t-shirts on the inside. Ennor was starting to worry some of the group would become hypothermic.
"We were all laughing and carrying on because we thought it was funny, but in reality everyone was freezing."
The police told them to stay put, but one member of the group was a mountain runner from Canada, who chose to run all the different tracks to see if he could find an exit that wasn't blocked by flooding.
When the runner managed to find a way out, it took the group another hour to get to safety, with many ended up battered and bruised from repeatedly falling over on the slippery track.
"At that stage people were shivering uncontrollably."
After speaking to the police the group were heading home this evening.
Ennor said they were hungry and desperately wanted hot showers and a chance to relax.