Two American students can thank hot pools for helping keep them alive after being trapped near Arthur's Pass in thick snow and in temperatures as low as -8 degrees.
Alec Brown and Erica Klintworth, both 21, were reported overdue from a tramp near the Otehake River on Saturday but walked out in "amazingly" good spirits and condition yesterday, West Coast search and rescue leader Sean Judd said.
The couple, who had been due out of the bush between Monday and Wednesday last week, rationed their food of peanut butter, rice, fruit and nuts, and slept in a hammock tent strung between trees.
They kept warm by regularly getting into nearby natural hot pools after becoming stranded when they could not cross the swollen river. Yesterday was the first day they felt safe to do that.
The Wisconsin couple, both students at Canterbury University, were reported missing by their flatmates late on Saturday, when they were already several days overdue.
Judd said he "didn't have a good feeling" when he heard they were missing. "Given the weather and the time delay, [I] was quite relieved when they turned up alive."
He said the temperature in the area would have "easily plummeted" to -8C on Wednesday night, when a cold front came through.
However, the area missed the worst of the front. If it had not, and the Otehake River hot springs had not been there, the pair would probably have died.
"[It's] not a bad way to lift your spirits when you're stuck in the hills in the miserable cold weather."
Given the pair's lack of experience in New Zealand terrain, the weather, and the delay in the bush, rescuers were "extremely concerned" for their safety.
The pair were in "pretty good" condition yesterday, he said, considering their ordeal.
"They were OK; a little bit hungry, as you can imagine. They'd been rationing their food for a few days."
The couple admitted they were ill-prepared for the tramp.
"They were wanting to come out Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, which in itself isn't that helpful.
"Certainly their preparedness in terms of the weather and some of their equipment wasn't up to it.
"What may have helped was hiring a mountain radio or a personal locator beacon."
A helicopter and ground search teams were used to try to find the pair yesterday, but they walked out by themselves.
They spent last night at a Greymouth backpackers and planned to return to Christchurch today.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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