A Whakatāne woman who suffered a serious head injury after falling about 22m while abseiling on Mauao was in a serious but stable condition yesterday.
Police and emergency services personnel were called to a climbing wall on the northern face of Mauao at about 7.30pm on Wednesday.
St John Ambulance said the woman was taken to Tauranga Hospital in a critical condition.
The 32-year-old was later transferred to Waikato Hospital, where she was in a serious but stable condition yesterday afternoon, spokespeople from the two hospitals said.
Mount Maunganui fire brigade station officer Roger Pickett said the woman was near the top of the abseiling wall when she fell about 22m and hit some rock, bounced and ended up on the other side of the track.
"Luckily she became hooked up in some trees, which potentially saved her from falling another 50m on to the base track below and suffering more serious injuries," he said.
Kent Jarman, head of the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service's callout squad, was one of those who responded to the incident.
He said they were first alerted by St John Ambulance and helped take the paramedics, oxygen, a stretcher and other equipment up to the site.
"The young lady had fallen probably about 4m over the side of the track; she'd missed the track completely when she fell," Jarman said.
"She was very, very lucky not to have winded up going three-quarters of the way to the bottom."
He said he was not sure if her ropes had stopped her, she was sort of wedged among two small trees.
He said the outcome could have been worse had she not missed the track and gone down a sloping bank.
"A 20m fall could be fatal quite easily."
He said a person could fall "a hell of a lot less distance than that" and die.
Jarman said he climbed down the bank and assisted a paramedic with equipment and stabilising the woman. She was semi-conscious.
He said they were concerned about head injuries and he suspected she had some fractures to her limbs.
She was transferred on to a stretcher "in rather difficult circumstances" and a Fire and Emergency New Zealand crew was alerted to let them know they needed to come up to the site with their rope gear.
Jarman said the woman was climbing with a friend, and the friend was there with her the whole time.
He said they appeared to have all the rope gear and the ropes were attached to pitons on the rock.
"I'm not sure what happened."
The Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service, police, Fire and Emergency New Zealand and St John Ambulance all responded to the incident.
Accidents on Mauao
Mauao has been the scene of several serious action-sport incidents over the past 12 months, and discussions around what activities are appropriate on the mountain will continue this year.
Tauranga man Richard Marriner, 48, died in a paragliding incident on Mauao in December and fellow flyer Joshua Tingey, 28, had a fatal crash on the mountain in February last year.
There have been some lengthy conversations in the past at Ngā Poutiriao ō Mauao about the different activities taking place on the mountain, including paragliding and rock climbing, and whether they need some health and safety attention.
Ngā Poutiriao ō Mauao is a joint administration board comprised of representatives from the Tauranga City Council and the Mauao Trust, which represents the iwi trustees who hold the title to the reserve.
Carlo Ellis, manager of strategic Māori engagement at the Tauranga City Council, said yesterday that the discussions were ongoing and have involved the various advocacy groups for paragliding and rock climbing in the area.
He said his sympathies went out to the family of the climber injured on Wednesday night.
"It's always a tragedy to have anybody hurt or God forbid, pass away – anywhere, but on the maunga in particular."
Ellis said there was another Ngā Poutiriao ō Mauao meeting coming up and he had no doubt "that this incident will be part of what they need to discuss".
He said from a cultural point of view these paragliding and rock climbing incidents, as well as the recent slips and closures on Mauao, could be seen as signs that the maunga is under stress.
"We're certainly seeing a number of things that probably from a Māori world view, indicate that maybe the maunga needs or is calling out for a bit of a rest."
However, Ellis said the iwi and hapu representatives also respect that Mauao is a key community resource.
"It's something that people enjoy and love, but it's a difficult balancing act for tikanga Māori."