Trapped between a slip of rocks ''the size of footballs'' and a road which disintegrated before their eyes, German tourists Chris and Annika Wurzel thought they were never going to make it out of Fiordland National Park alive yesterday.

"We climbed up a rock about three or four metres high and stayed there in the rain for two hours.

"We were very afraid and freezing cold. There was no way of communicating with anyone."

They were just two of the 72 people rescued from the roads and hiking huts in Fiordland after severe flooding led to a state of emergency being declared in the region on Monday.


A day earlier, 68 others were also airlifted and transported to the Real Journeys Fiordland Community Centre for warmth and food while they awaited relocation.

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Wurzel said they were on their way from Cascade Creek to Milford Sound when their camper van got to a point where it could go no further.

Rocks and intense flooding had penetrated the road where they stopped, about 20km from Milford Sound.

After waiting inside the warmth of the car for a couple of hours, they heard a rumble behind them.

''We turned around and the rocks just came falling down in a landslide. We didn't know what to do so we got out of the car.''

Perched on a boulder in the pouring rain, it took about six hours before helicopters could reach them.

A German couple were on their way from Cascade Creek to Milford Sound in their hired camper van when the road began to disappear beneath flooding. Photo / supplied
A German couple were on their way from Cascade Creek to Milford Sound in their hired camper van when the road began to disappear beneath flooding. Photo / supplied

''We only took the important things like our passports. Everything else is still in there — we had to leave it behind.''


Stray Journeys tour guide Jerome Chambers woke to a knock on his hut door at Gunn's Camp about 7.30am on Monday.

''It was the camp manager telling us we had to get out because the flooding was getting into the hut. We got everyone out in about 10 minutes.''

Chambers led a group of 26 tourists to a bus which stopped on the road shortly afterwards because of the extent of the flooding.

''We turned around and went back towards Gunn's Camp, and within minutes the water level had tripled in size.''

The group waited patiently in the Lake Marian car park and watched the lake swing bridge collapse into the rising water.

''We formed like a chain gang to get across the water flowing along the road. One lady had water up to the top of her thighs.''


Two Southern Lakes Helicopters arrived by late afternoon and made three trips to get the tourists from the lake to safety, he said.

Civil Defence Emergency Management Southland response adviser Paul Le Roux and Southland deputy mayor Ebert Kremer spent yesterday keeping those rescued safe and comfortable at the community centre.

Kremer said the meeting point was a place for people to get warm, fed, and sleep if necessary, before alternative accommodation was found for them.

"Everyone who comes in is processed and we get their details registered to make sure everyone is accounted for.

"Then we can assess what their needs are, whether it is clothes or something else.''

He acknowledged the ''tremendous'' work volunteers, emergency services, community members and helicopters had carried out over the past 48 hours.


"Those chopper boys have gone out in some seriously horrendous conditions, I can't praise them and all the other people who have helped enough."

Rescue teams would attempt to rescue the nearly 400 remaining people trapped in Milford Sound today.