Nearly drowned and close to exhaustion, a Turangi grandmother thought she was dreaming when searchers found her after four days and three nights without food.
"I was starting to hallucinate," 62-year-old Lucy Solomon said of the search party in their high-visibility vests.
"I saw this big orange thing ahead of me . . . I was getting to the stage where I was seeing things that weren't really there.
"I don't think I could have lasted another night."
On her final night she fell off a cliff face into a river as she frantically waved her torch to alert a helicopter searching for her overhead.
"I nearly drowned . . . but a tree branch hooked up under my chin and somehow I got on to a boulder and out of the water.
"I always had a good relationships with our Lord, so I screamed to him to help me . . . It was the only thing I could do.
"I knew as long as I had water to drink I would have life."
Mrs Solomon became lost in the Kaimanawa Forest Park near Turangi on Saturday afternoon when her male companion decided to go hunting.
They had intended to camp overnight near Kiko Rd and agreed to meet back at their campsite later that night.
She planned to go for a stroll back to the campsite, but was taken off the track by her friend's weimaraner dog, Pene.
She and the dog ended up clambering over rocks and through dense bush for the next four days and three nights until they were found by search volunteers on Tuesday afternoon near the Tauranga-Taupo River.
Mrs Solomon was covered in bruises, but in good spirits, after being checked out at Taupo Hospital.
She planned to go back to work yesterday but was persuaded not to by her family.
She said she became lost about 5pm on Saturday. "I pushed myself through the bush but I just kept being led further and further away by the dog, until when it became dark I realised we were lost."
Dressed only in jeans, a light shirt and boots, she snuggled up against the "nook of a tree" to keep warm, but had little sleep.
"I was quite surprised with myself because I wasn't scared [of the dark], just scared that I was lost and I had not let the family know where I was going."
The next morning she set off again hoping to find the river, which she knew would lead her out to Lake Taupo. "I had to keep walking to keep warm . . . We walked miles and miles."
She eventually found the river, but her way was blocked by boulders and high banks, which she had to clamber up and over.
"I knew I just had to find a way to get out and hoped the river would lead me."
It was not until Monday that her friend alerted police that she was missing. A hunt began and, by Tuesday, searchers found footprints and dog prints near the river, and finally located Mrs Solomon.
Search co-ordinator Senior Constable Barry Shepherd believed she was only two to three kilometres from her campsite when found.
"But we estimate she probably walked a circuitous route of around 10km."
The area was "gnarly country", covered in regrowth and mature native trees, he said.
"It was a successful outcome, but we are a little disappointed we were not alerted sooner."
- © Fairfax NZ News