Missing trampers Dion Reynolds and Jessica O'Connor were found when smoke from a fire they lit was seen by a search helicopter - a result the police said was "a fantastic outcome".

It's believed the pair had been without food for some time.

They have already been checked and discharged from Nelson Hospital, mere hours after being discovered. They were allowed to go home just before 6pm tonight.

Their physical conditions seemed good considering it had been a 19-day ordeal in "such a hostile environment", Nelson Bays Area Commander Inspector Paul Borrell said this afternoon.

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The Kahurangi National Park is known for some rugged terrain. Photo / NZDF
The Kahurangi National Park is known for some rugged terrain. Photo / NZDF

"This is a fantastic outcome and one that we were all hoping for, although we were becoming increasingly concerned as the days progressed.

"I am so very, very proud of our Search and Rescue team made up largely of volunteers and supported by police."

Reynolds and O'Connor, both 23, went tramping in the Kahurangi National Park but failed to return when expected.

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At a media conference this afternoon, Search and Rescue Sergeant Malcolm York said it was a "fantastic outcome and one we were all hoping for".

He said the trampers got lost "fairly early on in the tramp", due to fog, before suffering the minor injuries.

Volunteer Landsar personell and dogs were supported by AIr Force hleicopters. Photo / NZDF
Volunteer Landsar personell and dogs were supported by AIr Force hleicopters. Photo / NZDF

Reynolds has a strained ankle and O'Connor suffered a strained back in a fall, he said.

After the fall, they stayed in that location for a few days before moving to where they could find water.

Once they found water, they stayed there until they were spotted from the air.

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York said the pair were located in the headwaters of the Frasier Stream shortly before 1pm by a search helicopter, which spotted smoke from their fire.

'They did the right thing, they stayed put'

When picked up, they were "chatty and in good spirits".

York said it was "pretty rare" to have such a positive outcome after such a long search.

"They did the right thing, they stayed put, and they made themselves visible, so when we got to that spot, we were able to see them."

York told the conference he understood "they've been without food for some time".

He said the pair had excellent equipment that kept them alive in cold conditions.

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"They've done well to survive. Just the fact that after 19 days they're in such good condition ... it shows they've done the right thing."

Rescuers on the last day of the search head for an Air Force NH90 helicopter. Photo / NZDF
Rescuers on the last day of the search head for an Air Force NH90 helicopter. Photo / NZDF

The search for the pair was "particularly challenging" as it was in such a remote, rugged, bush-clad area, York said.

"There were up to 50 people involved made up of Police, NZDF, Fire and Emergency NZ, Land SAR, Department of Conservation's Aoraki/Mount Cook Search and Rescue team, and other volunteers who all desperately wanted to return Jessica and Dion safely to their families.

"Such outcomes are always totally dependent on the cooperation and hard work from a wide range of dedicated people, largely volunteer searchers and others from a number of organisations including police whom I want to sincerely thank."


Borrell said police staff are with the pair this afternoon, "doing a debrief process".

"We're absolutely ecstatic," he said.

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"As area commander of Nelson Bays I am so very very proud of our search and rescue team," Borrell said.

Support from the community had been
Support from the community had been "absolutely fantastic", especially from around Golden Bay. Photo / NZDF

Support from the community had been "absolutely fantastic", especially from around Golden Bay.

"With anything there is always lessons to be learned, we are very hard on ourselves as we should be," Borrell said.

York said SAR staff were still out in the field and gave a "massive thanks" to searchers.

"Volunteers are the backbone of our ability to be able to go out and find people. Today we had over 50.

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A St John spokeswoman said the pair only had minor injuries but an ambulance had met a helicopter to take them to Nelson hospital.

A huge search effort for the pair included search teams aided by a dog and use of drones to create a heat map of the entire valley system.