Rescued bushwalker Jessica O'Connor says she "never lost hope" despite being lost for 19 days in rugged NZ bush and running out of food.
O'Connor and her friend Dion Reynolds – both aged 23 – were rescued in Kahurangi National Park last wednesday after not being seen since May 8.
They were saved when a search helicopter spotted smoke from a fire they had lit in a dense bush northwest of Nelson at the top of the South Island.
Now, O'Connor has spoken out for the first time, to say she's "eternally grateful" for the rescuers who saved their lives she told the NZ Herald.
"At the end of the day, we wouldn't be here if it weren't for the efforts of the Police, LandSAR, Fire Service, Defence Force, all the volunteers, friends and family, donors and the power of positive energy.
"While I would never wish this experience upon anyone, there has been a lot learnt and I'm hoping to use this experience to educate others that explore this beautiful country."
Although the pair spent 13 days without food, and suffered severe bad weather, O'Connor said she "never lost hope".
"It really is amazing what you can do when your life depends on it!" she says.
"Again, a huge thank you to everyone. This doesn't come close to repaying everyone for your support, but please know I will be eternally grateful."
Following the rescue, debate shifted to whether the bushwalkers should be charged for breaching the level 3 lockdown. The pair left on the hike on May 8, when overnight hiking was forbidden.
The AM Show host Mark Richardson called for police to “throw the book at them” for not abiding by the lockdown. RNZ reports police will not charge the trampers for the lockdown breach.
But a LandSAR spokesperson said the Reynolds and O’Connor did right the thing by staying put near a water source and waiting to be rescued and carrying good equipment.
The rescue has also resulted in renewed calls for all trampers to carry a PLB when heading into the backcountry. The benefits of PLBs was also highlighted in another recent rescue.
The Otago Daily Times reported a hunter was rescued from South Westland after one of a group of four injured their ankle. They had a PLB and were promptly rescued and no search was required.
We at Great Walks always encourage bushwalkers to carry a PLB. It could one day save your life. It's as simple as that.