Tour of discovery may have ended in tragedy

MISSING: German tramper Christian Prehn.
MISSING: German tramper Christian Prehn.

Jens Prehn says his son had two main intentions when he came from Germany to New Zealand: to learn as much as possible about the country, and to meet "as many different people as he ever could".

Now 19-year-old Christian Prehn has been missing in unforgiving alpine country for more than a week. He was last seen last Tuesday.

Police began searching for him after a Department of Conservation worker discovered his pack lying beside the track in the Travers Saddle area of Nelson Lakes National Park last weekend.

The saddle is 1787 metres above sea level, and subject to extreme weather conditions. Snow, rain and severe gale-force winds have prevented Search and Rescue teams led by Nelson Bays Search and Rescue Senior Constable Dave Colville from entering the area since Sunday.

During an initial search, three search teams scoured the area, assisted by a helicopter. This morning, Colville said three teams were being flown into the Travers Saddle area. They were equipped for an overnight stay if required.

A police spokesperson said Christian was last seen on February 25. Several other German trampers and members of the public had since come forward to help the police figure out his movements.

Jens Prehn said the family last heard from Christian on February 22, when he was in Golden Bay. He was about to go on a tour, saying he thought this might take him into areas with no cellphone reception for several days.

"Everything seemed to be very fine for him."

Describing Christian as an open-minded and tolerant person who placed great importance on seeing the world,  rehn said his son came to New Zealand last October on a work and travel visa, with the intention of staying for one year. He is from the town of Krefeld, which is northwest of Dusseldorf and near the River Rhine.

Prehn said Christian had initially hoped to traverse both islands as a backpacker, walking from north to south. "Once he arrived there, he decided it might be too big a challenge, so he changed his plans and bought a car to be more mobile and flexible. He wanted to see as many points of interest as possible.

"It was quite logical for him to take this kind of adventure now, since there might be no chance later on to do this."

Christian was a member of a successful music quartet called Multiphonic, in which he played baritone saxophone. Formed in 2007, the quartet has won prizes in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

The quartet toured Portugal at the end of last year.

Prehn said Christian had been close to the other players, saying they were like family members.

"Sure enough, the quartet members and all of the musicians they played with are very concerned about Christian's situation."

He said his son wanted to continue playing music as a hobby while studying towards a career at sea. He hoped to get into naval science or work on board a ship.

Yesterday, the Prehn family had not yet decided whether or when to travel to New Zealand. Prehn said they would want to make the decision "rather spontaneously" if there was a need to go.

"At the moment. we wouldn't be of any help for the search team at the place, so we postponed any plans of that kind."