A bad bout of food poisoning and an expedition into extremely dangerous terrain gave Estonian tramper Andre Lipand a 26th birthday he will never forget after he became trapped in a deep gorge in Mount Aspiring National Park at the weekend.
Mr Lipand, who is holidaying in New Zealand, set off alone on Wednesday to complete the Young River-Gillespie Pass-Wilkin River circuit on foot and in an inflatable raft he was carrying.
He was due back from his trip on Friday. When he still had not returned to Wanaka by Saturday - his prearranged "panic" date - his friend raised the alarm with police about 5.30pm.
Wanaka LandSAR media liaison officer Phil Melchior said LandSAR Wanaka's analysis of the situation deemed the cost and risk of a night search unwarranted, so a ground, air and river search was launched first thing yesterday morning, involving 11 LandSAR Wanaka search and rescue volunteers.
The first team sent in to the area discovered Mr Lipand's tracks in the snow going over the Gillespie Pass and evidence he had launched his raft into the Siberia Stream where it intersects with the Gillespie Stream, so the search focus shifted to the Siberia Gorge.
"One of our scenarios was always that he had put his raft in on the Siberia Stream and got into trouble in the gorge, so that was something that we were actively considering, but our understanding was that his plans were to raft the Wilkin River, not the Siberia Stream," LandSAR Wanaka search manager Phillip Melchior said.
"He did a good job getting across the pass in the snow and he was adequately equipped but he should never have attempted to raft down the Siberia Gorge.
"It's extreme tiger country which is just not achievable under any circumstances. It's a big and dangerous gorge in a kayak and you wouldn't raft it and you wouldn't walk it. You would just stay the hell out of it and it's unfortunate that he didn't look more closely at his map."
When Mr Lipand realised the Siberia Stream was unnavigable, the only place he could leave the river was on the opposite bank from the track.
"He was deep in the gorge and then realised he couldn't go anywhere and started to walk out and then basically got bluffed.
"[He reached] a point where you can't go any higher and you can't retrace your steps because it's too steep and too slippery and too dangerous."
Mr Lipand was suffering from food poisoning and would have been at risk of exposure if he had remained trapped in the gorge much longer, Mr Melchior said.
"He's weak and debilitated and stuck. In those circumstances, staying put and knowing that somebody will come and rescue you and being able to do something to attract the attention of someone is the right thing to do."
LandSAR volunteers searching on foot heard Mr Lipand's cries for help before spotting him up the steep bank high above the river at about 3pm yesterday. The helicopter search crew was called in and he was hoisted out.
Mr Lipand said his map had not indicated he was entering dangerous terrain.
"I had no idea that there was a gorge there."
After becoming bluffed in the gorge and camping for the night, he felt fortunate to have ended up in the "capable hands" of the LandSAR volunteers.