Hundreds of Kiwi troops attend War Games in the Pacific Islands

Specialised bomb disposal Navy divers move carefully underwater, hoping the water masks their presence.

They search for and detonate explosives planted around Epi Island’s coastline by a make-believe armed hostile group.

This is all part of a training exercise named Tropic Major, which has been carried out by the New Zealand Defence Force.

Around 500 servicemen and women from the joint forces – Army, Navy and Airforce – are taking part in the Vanuatu simulation.

It’s an exercise that costs around $3.5 million, which also includes other side projects the NZDF is working on in the islands.

The war games start like this: A criminal with international connections has found his way to New Zealand, but then he escapes to Vanuatu and starts to grow a network of thugs on Epi Island.

They’re terrorising locals, extorting them, and they have even killed a person.

In this exercise, the Vanuatu government is unable to cope and so it calls in the New Zealand Defence Force.

As the assignment continues, the divers give the all clear and a bit later small Zodiac boats filled with ground troops leave the giant HMNZS Canterbury.

They storm a beach on Epi, in a bid to hunt down the criminals.

NH90 helicopters circle above this usually peaceful island paradise.

Epi Island itself has 10,000 people, but only one police officer.

“To me as one police officer, I think I don’t have much strength that I can deal with such issues,” says Corporal Daniel.

He, and other island leaders, say people worry about whether they’d be well protected should a gang of criminals try and take over the island.

Chief Varasliu Supapao says “The people worry a lot about criminals, so with the exercises we really like it cause this one can stop criminals and other crimes.”

The NZDF is carrying out this exercise to not only test its military might, but also to practice how it would approach a real-life situation like this.

“We conduct operations throughout the world. We've got people right now in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan… so the need for us to understand the environments we're operating in and to see how our capabilities respond there is vital to us being an effective fighting force,” says the man in charge of this whole exercise, Navy Captain Garin Golding, the Joint Taskforce Commander.

He points to Pacific Island conflicts in recent history where the NZDF responded.

Last year’s NZDF operating budget was nearly two billion dollars.

The previous government announced a 20 billion dollar investment over 15 years, but the new government is reviewing that and the findings are due within a month.

“Defence is expensive if you want to do it properly, and I think New Zealand actually gets pretty good value for the fairly modest sums that it spends on its defence force,” says Professor Robert Ayson, from the Strategic Studies department at Wellington’s Victoria University.

As the simulation continues, with fake ammunition being fired and smoke bombs hazing up the island air, the criminals are caught and arrested by the local police officer.

The make believe scenario ends well.

They all hope any potential real world conflict also has a happy ending.

1 NEWS reporter Arrun Soma got exclusive access on Epi Island in Vanuatu. Source: 1 NEWS



'It's amazing what you get used to when it's a life-or-death situation' - Kiwi drinks her own urine to survive in desert with broken pelvis

Like millions of hikers before her, Kiwi Claire Nelson is drawn by the Joshua Tree National Park's unusual scenery, but she almost didn't survive her last visit.

Claire Nelson says she’s "still amazed that I’m here, to be honest."

"There were points at the end of the week where I thought, 'This is it – no one's gonna come and find me,'" Ms Nelson said.

Speaking from her hospital bed in California, the 36-year-old writer explained how, on Tuesday, she accidentally strayed off the trail, fell and smashed her pelvis.

"I was trying to get some footing over one big rock and immediately just started to slide. I heard this crack and just doubled over in pain and I was screaming."

Unable to move and with no cellphone signal, Ms Nelson knew she was "in massive trouble".

All she could do was wait for three long nights and four days.

"I was really paranoid about rattlesnakes, coyotes, scorpions."

Despite rationing her water supply, by Wednesday, she was forced to drink her own urine to survive.

"I had no choice. I had to bottle my own urine and drink it, and it happened that at the time, it actually wasn't a hard decision. It's just like, I just need to make sure that I'm hydrated.

"I'm not gonna say that, 'Oh, you know, it's not too bad'. I mean, it's amazing what you get used to when it's a life-or-death situation."

The toughest part was surviving the pain of her injuries and keeping up her spirits.

"Part of me was just adamant that this was not the way this was going to end for me. I've made a big mistake, but it just didn't feel like this was the end.

"There's too much I wanna do, too much I wanna achieve and too many people I wanna see again."

Concerned friends reported her missing and by Friday, Ms Nelson heard a helicopter overhead and attracted its attention by waving a t-shirt on her walking stick.

"[There was] this huge sense of relief. You know, I was too dehydrated to cry, but that's pretty much what I was doing."

Now that she's recovering in hospital, Ms Nelson say there's something she'd much rather drink.

"By the third day, I was getting really sick of it. All I really wanted was a beer!"

Doctors will be operating on her pelvis on Monday.

Claire Nelson had to resort to drastic measures to survive the US desert after she fell while hiking. Source: 1 NEWS

TODAY'S
FEATURED STORIES

Heavy snow warning issued for central North Island as chilly weather sets in

Heavy snow and occasional rain is expected for parts of the central plateau overnight as a wintry chill hits the country.

The MetService has issued a road snowfall warning for State Highway 1 Desert Road from midnight tonight to 8am tomorrow morning.

A snow level of 700 metres is expected overnight.

One to three centimetres of snow may accumulate on the road above 700 metres during this time.

Snow is also expected for Rimutaka Hill Road (State Highway 2), with snow reaching up to 500 metres in height.

Meanwhile, gales are forecast to spread up the country today, then slowly ease on Monday.

A severe weather watch has been issued for Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Wairarapa, Wellington, Marlborough, Christchurch and Canterbury through to Monday.

A strong wind watch continues for the Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, Marlborough, Wellington and Wairarapa today and tomorrow.

MetService say the severe weather watch is for the possibility that southerly gales may become severe in exposed coastal areas at times from Banks Peninsula to East Cape.

To find out the weather in your area over the weekend, click here.
 

A winter landscape from New Zealand National Park
North Island's Desert Road (file picture). Source: istock.com