Driver takes a long and winding road

A Nelson-bound motorist had his first overnight camping experience - an unplanned trip to the snow - after taking a wrong high-country turn by following GPS instructions.

Health insurance salesman Lei Dai, 26, was driving from Christchurch to Nelson on Monday night when he became lost following his GPS from Hanmer Springs.

His misadventures triggered a police search and left him with an unplanned wilderness experience.

"I was supposed to be going to Richmond on Monday," Mr Dai said. "I put it into my GPS and it told me to go on the Hanmer Springs hydro road," he said.

The Hanmer to St Arnaud Road is described by the Conservation Department as a wilderness driving experience through the Rainbow Station, Molesworth Station and St James conservation area.

Mr Dai, known to his friends as David, did not think the steep, winding gravel road out of Hanmer was anything too untoward.

"I started heading up a gravel road and thought it was a bit tricky but I could see others driving in the area and thought it would be fine," he said.

He had never before taken his 4WD Subaru Legacy off-road.

About 30 kilometres along and with no cellphone coverage, it began to snow and Mr Dai's adventure came to a grinding halt when his car got stuck. Luckily, a full tank of fuel meant he could keep the engine running and the car's heater going all night. He staved off hunger with a packet of chocolate biscuits and a can of energy drink.

"I was a bit worried at that point. I've not been camping before but I decided then not to leave the car." He knew his wife in Christchurch and his colleagues in Nelson would be worried when he had not turned up in Richmond as planned.

Sergeant Mike Fitzsimons, of Nelson, said Mr Dai had made a cellphone call from Amberley, North Canterbury, on Monday afternoon, and cellphone tracking had revealed he was in the Hanmer area at 5pm that night. Mr Dai's friends had turned up in Murchison yesterday morning and reported him missing to police.

Sergeant Steve Savage, of Nelson, said today about seven or eight police were working on the search with help from search and rescue volunteers from Murchison and Reefton, plus a rescue helicopter from Reefton. A search and rescue team from Christchurch was about to be called in to help when he emerged unscathed.

Mr Dai left his car and began the long walk back to Hanmer on Tuesday morning. After about 7km a couple driving by stopped and helped him. "I was very relieved and felt so lucky to see some people."

Mr Dai's car was then towed out and he made it back safely to Christchurch.

Mr Savage said it was not the first time a driver had trusted their GPS and driven through the high country road from Hanmer. It happened because people selected the shortest route by distance and not by time, but there were early clues when driving across outback terrain it was not a state highway.

"If you've been driving on the main road for a while and then start going through creeks and over high alpine passes, you might think that's a bit strange." Fairfax NZ

The Marlborough Express