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Near-death experience in flooded Tasman river prompts new direction for US hiker

An American hiker who had a brush with death in a flooded Tasman river last month has abandoned his South Island hiking plans, and is now biking and rafting instead.

Chris Muse, centre, with LandSar volunteers Dwayne Lohmann, left, and Kris Monopoli. Source: Supplied

By Tracy Neal for rnz.co.nz

Chris Muse, an outdoor guide from Alaska, was swept about 70 metres downstream after attempting to cross a tributary of the Motueka River, in early December.

The 30-year-old had been hiking the South Island section of the Te Araroa Trail, from Ship Cove in the Marlborough Sounds to Bluff.

He said from Murchison this morning that continued poor weather had forced a change in plan.

"And I decided to stop hiking for a little bit and I went to Christchurch and bought a bike and I've been touring around on that for the last month."

Muse said he was now biking to rivers in the Nelson Lakes area, on which he is rafting with an inflatable kayak called a packraft.

"I've been going around and floating down rivers. I figured it was better than trying to cross them."

Muse's close call came on a day during heavy rain when he had already made several successful river crossings but misjudged the last one entirely.

"The flow was so ... so high that a boulder was set loose in front of me and pushed me back. I lost my footing and luckily I landed on my front so I was able to execute a few solid swim strokes, and at the flow rate it swept me probably 50 to 70 metres downriver to the opposite side of the stream I was on.

"I was able to cling to a boulder just before going into the Motueka (River), which would have ended in certain death."

A search and rescue volunteer prepares to cross the Motueka River to reach Chris Muse last November. Source: New Zealand Police

He managed to clamber to safety but then found himself stuck between two impassable rivers.

Muse activated his personal locator beacon, which sent a message to his local rescue service in Texas, which then informed the New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre.

The weather was too poor to send out a rescue helicopter, but police and LandSAR volunteers reached him that evening, but were unable to cross the river until the next day.

Muse said New Zealand was described as a mecca for packrafting which was also "big" in Alaska.

He said his near-death experience was not so much a "knock" to his confidence as a prompt to change his plans.

"I didn't necessarily come here to do the trail (Te Araroa). I was just looking for a bit of a change."

Muse aimed to head south to Queenstown, and was currently on his way to Westport, by bike. He would be leaving the country mid-March to return to the United States.