Trampers out safely after 'extreme storm'

After being stuck in flooded conditions for an extra night, 120 Milford Track trampers arrived in Milford Sound yesterday exhausted, unshowered, but upbeat.

More than 400mm of rain in Fiordland on Monday and Tuesday forced the trampers to bunk down for an extra night between the three Department of Conservation huts,

Clinton, Mintaro and Dumpling. Doc programme manager of visitor assets Annie Wallace said ''an extreme storm'' had swelled rivers alongside the track so much they burst their banks, making it too risky for walkers to continue on New Year's Day.

No-one was in any danger throughout the ordeal and all were either flown out by helicopter or walked from the track before being taken by boat to the Milford Sound terminalHowever, a Frenchwoman was airlifted out from the Kepler Track near Te Anau after suffering hypothermia.

Mrs Wallace said water on some parts of the Milford Track would have been well above the trampers' heads, so the decision to keep them inside overnight was an easy one.

''This was by far the biggest flood we have seen.''

While food in one hut was down to a minimum by the third day of the walk, rangers supplied 40 trampers with canned food from emergency kits.

''Everyone had high spirits and were enjoying each other's company.''

Canberra couple Michael and Margaret Thompson said they had never experienced rain like it. ''It came down pretty hard,'' Mr Thompson said.

When the rain intensified on New Year's Eve, the trampers were still an hour's walk from Dumpling Hut and had to walk through the downpour.

''It was hard, but it was OK. As long as you had your wet weather gear you were fine.

''Most of us didn't see the new year through; we were too tired.''

Dinner included a can of tomatoes followed by a dessert of porridge and honey.

Doc's only concern now was the ''unknown damage'' to the Milford Track, Mrs Wallace said.