Full moon played a critical part in the rescue of lost tramper
A full moon might be all that was between Martin Vaclavu and a cold, lonely death on the top of the Kaweka Range.
Vaclavu is not an inexperienced tramper, but is the first to admit he made mistakes when going on what should have been a short walk in the Hawke's Bay range on Monday.
The 25-year-old from the Czech Republic went for a walk to "see where I could get".
"I just saw the peaks, loved the way they looked, and wanted to get closer to them. But I miscalculated the time I would need to get back."
The weather changed and became colder, with a light fog, and it started to get darker. He did not have a torch.
"I knew the direction I needed to go in, but it was getting dark and I was afraid of getting lost, so I stayed on the only track I could see."
Vaclavu said he was walking through knee-deep snow for much of the walk.
"I know I made some bad decisions and that I was not as prepared as I should have been.
"It was freezing. I realised I could be in a lot of danger, so I rang my friends to tell them where I was, then the emergency number to tell them."
He climbed to a snow-covered saddle at about 1400 metres, found some foliage providing shelter, and lay down to wait for his rescuers.
"I just tried to cover up and shelter from the strong wind that came with the night. It was very cold.
"My shoes and gloves were wet, so my fingers and toes were frozen. But I wasn't giving up."
Monday night's full moon was a blessing.
"I was very lucky. It was really foggy, but somehow it cleared and the moon was really shining. I think it meant the helicopter could see me easily.
"I've learned a big lesson. I just should have thought about the consequences earlier and turned back, but I didn't."
Vaclavu arrived in New Zealand three months ago and has travelled around the North Island, making several short walks. He intends to spend more than a year in the country and will go to the South Island soon.
Hawke's Bay police search and rescue co-ordinator Wayne Stead said Vaclavu had started his tramp from the Lakes car park near Kuripapango on the Napier-Taihape Road.
"He followed a track to the top of ranges, then followed a poled route. He was in an area known as Mad Dog Hill when the cloud and dark came in."
Stead agreed the the light of the full moon was critical to the rescue.
"If we hadn't been able to land the helicopter near him, we would have had to find another landing site and drop teams off to search for him by foot.
"The longer he was up there, the colder he would have got, and the more likely he would have become severely hypothermic. It would only have got worse. He was fortunate we were able to reach him when we did.
"It's a valuable reminder to always be prepared."