An American tourist is lucky to be alive after she was found lying unresponsive, dehydrated and hypothermic near a Far North walking track.
The 57-year-old, from California, was found by rescuers lying in the open about 50 metres off the Te Werahi Loop Track, just south of Cape Maria van Diemen, about 9am yesterday after an extensive land, sea and air search. Rescuers had to put the woman in a sleeping bag and climb in with her to get her body temperature to rise before she was taken by the Northland Electricity rescue helicopter to Whangarei Hospital. Late yesterday she was moved from ICU to a ward and was in a stable condition.
The alarm was raised on Saturday after two other tourists walking the track came across the disoriented and dehydrated woman north of Twilight Beach. While they gave her water they continued on and it wasn't until hours later, at Te Paki stream, that they mentioned it to a bus driver, who passed on the information and police were alerted about 5pm.
Northland police Search and Rescue co-ordinator Senior Sergeant Cliff Metcalfe said the northernmost officer at Houhora was notified and immediately he rallied a few locals and staff from Te Paki station, who used quad bikes to scour the area the woman was last seen. Her pack, containing a tent and sleeping bag, was found at the southern end of Twilight Beach about 8pm. An hour later the search was called off because of darkness.
In the pack police found the woman's passport and were able to establish she arrived in New Zealand on September 7, and had caught a bus from the Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga on Friday. They also tracked down the other two foreigners who saw the woman on the track, and were able to reduce the search area.
At daybreak yesterday the police Search and Rescue squad and volunteers from the Far North LandSAR began the search again, along with coast guard, Department of Conservation staff and a fixed-wing aircraft.
"We saturated the Twilight Beach and Scott Point area and one of the search teams spotted her about 50 metres off the track," Mr Metcalfe said.
"She was lying out in the open, unresponsive and lightly clad. She was hypothermic and possibly suffering a medical condition."
The rescuers gave the woman fluids, put some warm clothing on and put her in a sleeping bag with another person.
Overnight conditions had been very cold and southerly winds had blasted across the exposed area.
"She was in a really bad way ... it was lucky we found her when we did. It's highly unlikely she would have survived another night."
The woman did not have detailed maps of the track and police don't believe she had a full understanding of the tracks and was not prepared with enough water.
She had not notified anyone, including DoC, of her intentions.
Mr Metcalfe said police were last night trying to identify her family to notify them and work out where she had been since arriving in New Zealand.