Heavy rain catches out birthday trampers

CALEB HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 05/08/2014
Helena O’Connor and daughter Marie-Therese Evan
LOREN DOUGAN/ Fairfax NZ

ORDEAL OVER: Helena O’Connor and daughter Marie-Therese Evans regret not checking the weather forecast before leaving Mt Holdsworth car park. ‘‘You should definitely do that,’’ Evans said.

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A mother and daughter's 40th birthday tramping trip turned into an all-night search and rescue mission after heavy rain drenched Wairarapa.

Carterton real estate agent Helena O'Connor, 60, and daughter Marie-Therese Evans, who turned 40 last week, spent a chilly night "hunkered down" in bush above Greytown on Sunday night during some of the most intense rain of the winter.

The women did not check the forecast because the morning was so sunny - but soon wished they had.

"You should definitely do that, pay more attention to it and not just think, yeah, nah, it's really good now, we'll be fine," Evans said yesterday.

The two set out about 9am from the Mt Holdsworth car park, east of Masterton, expecting a nine-hour walk south to Waiohine Gorge Rd via Totara Flats, a distance of about 17 kilometres.

But heavy rain soon had the Waiohine River overflowing on to the track, slowing their progress.

After lunch at Totara Flats hut, they set off uphill towards the road end, but with nightfall obscuring scarce track markers, they decided to "hunker down".

When they did not arrive at Waiohine Gorge at 5.30pm, Evans's waiting husband raised the alarm.

By 10.30pm two teams of four Wairarapa Search and Rescue volunteers had entered from both road ends, search co-ordinator Barry Paget said.

The women passed the night under a punga tree, using some of its fronds to sit on.

Wrapped in insulating emergency blankets, they dozed, chatted and even shared a few jokes, Evans said. "Well, you have to, really . . . there was no point getting upset."

Their main concern was how worried their family would be.

Then just after 5am, searcher Don French, with about 40 years' experience finding people in the hills, came around the corner.

"We looked like drowned rats," O'Connor said.

French said that, in colder weather, the incident could have been much more serious, but no-one gave the pair too much grief. "There was a bit of polite banter."

The women and the searchers were flown out by helicopter about 8am.

While the track is regarded as "all-weather", the pair should have paid more attention to the conditions - especially given the short winter days, Paget said.

"In extreme conditions . . . at this time of year that's something you need to factor in, and heed what the forecast tells you."

The eight searchers, six-person management team and two people helping with communications, all volunteers, were "buzzing" at the search's outcome, Paget said. Police estimate they will have to pick up a bill of a couple of thousand dollars.

The pair did a lot of things right, such as communicating their plans to family and in a hut book, taking torches, food, hot drinks, warm and waterproof clothes and blankets, and staying put when it got dark, Paget said.

Evans agreed, but said in future she would leave more leeway for the unexpected.

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