A woman and four young children rescued from Te Urewera bush country after two days might not have survived the night, a search and rescue expert says.
The group was reported overdue at 4pm on Wednesday after failing to return from a walk through Waimana Valley on Tuesday.
After a 24 hour search, they were found safe and well near the river known as No Name Creek and were winched to safety by the Greenlea Rescue Helicopter just as it got dark.
They were taken to Whakatane Hospital and spent last night there.
The two youngest children had mild hypothermia but it could have been a lot worse.
Police search and rescue, together with volunteers, found the group in the vicinity of Lions Hut - at the Waimana end of Te Urewera National Park.
The area is known for its dense, heavy native bush and its beauty but at this time of year it is cold, frequently in the low single digits overnight.
The group had been on an unnamed track and headed down to No Name Creek for water, where they were eventually spotted.
The location has been described by rescue helicopter staff as a narrow ravine between two waterfalls.
The woman is believed to be a local of the Waimana area.
A member of the Waimana rugby team told RNZ the woman cooked fried bread when Waimana played home games.
The rugby team was meant to be practising last night but only a handful of team members were there; half had volunteered to search for the missing woman and children.
Eastern Bay area commander Inspector Kevin Taylor described the woman and children's condition as okay - given what they had been through.
The two youngest children were being treated for mild hypothermia and all five were being medically assessed.
Base manager Nat Every described the area they were found in as being close to "tiger country".
He said the group would have been unlikely to have survived a third night out in the open.
"My understanding is it is very, very cold and probably, I'd suggest, they were unlikely to have lasted the night, as it is pretty chilly out there.
"I gather that once they had spent a bit of time warming up, their condition dramatically improved."
Ten search and rescue teams scoured the area over 24 hours. The search included helicopters and went overnight - using night vision goggles.
Shortly before 4pm yesterday, the group were spotted by a land-based team.
Mr Every said a line was dropped from the helicopter, down through a gap in the canopy.
He said it would not have been pleasant being yanked up by a 120 foot line but it would have been better then where they were.
A better result could not have been scripted, he said.
Police have also thanked the Tuhoe people, saying local knowledge of the terrain was invaluable.