Old signs fooled missing tourist

JARED NICOLL
Last updated 07:08 24/08/2012

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A woman who became lost in darkness and thick bush in Picton shivered under a blanket of ferns on Wednesday night until she managed to walk out in the morning light.

The 34-year-old Swiss tourist was found by search and rescue teams near the entrance to Esson's Valley about 7.30am yesterday. The woman would not be named, giving her name only as Josephine.

She said yesterday she had spent the night lost and alone in the valley with no food and very little water after following some old signs that led away from a maintained track at a dam and up a steep incline to the summit above.

"As soon as it was dark I couldn't move any more, I couldn't see anything.

"I wasn't panicked, I didn't think I would die, but I had to count the hours before I could walk out," she said.

She made a mattress out of wood, an underlay sheet out of a bag and a blanket from fern leafs.

It was a clear, chilly night and her hooded sweatshirt kept her head and chest warm but her legs and feet were bitterly cold and damp.

"After three o'clock I was shivering so I tried to keep warm by rubbing.

"I could see the Picton lights from the top of the hill so I thought, ‘tomorrow morning I'll head straight there'."

She climbed back over the summit soon after dawn, continued down to a river and spotted the path that led her to a search and rescue team, who gave her food and drove her to her backpackers hostel in Picton.

"I promised myself from now on I'm only going to follow a track this wide with clear signs," she said, stretching her arms as wide as she could.

"In Switzerland you can walk for two or three hours and see a house or a hut or something - not in New Zealand."

She began her walk at midday on Wednesday to a lookout above Picton and about 2pm continued into Esson's Valley to the east of the town to a dam when she saw old arrow signs pointing to the summit. The area is a popular spot for hunters.

She headed down the other side of the hill toward what she thought was the same river she had passed earlier in the day but when she climbed back up to the summit she could not find the signs to get back.

She text her flatmate in Christchurch about 5.30pm to give her location and to say she needed help, but her phone had run out of power when police tried to contact her.

"I was moving up and down the hills for much of the day so my body was very tired.

"I drifted into sleep but woke after about 20 minutes because I was shivering."

She heard search and rescue teams looking for her about 2am but they could not hear her calls.

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"I shouted as loud as I could and I heard them coming closer and had that big moment of hope but then they drifted away again. It calmed me down to know people were looking for me, and I appreciate that very much."

Two search teams worked until 3.30am yesterday and resumed at 6.30am.

- The Marlborough Express

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