With the sunlight fading, five people - including four young children - were plucked from dense, remote bush to safety after almost two days lost.
The children - aged 4, 5 and two 9 - cried as they were dropped off to rescuers by helicopter. The group was found by search teams in the Urewera National Forest on Thursday afternoon, "cold and hungry" but otherwise fine.
The group of five were "cold and hungry", but otherwise fine police said.
The woman kissed the rescuer who wrapped her in a blanket on the cheek. "Thank you," she whispered to him before being whisked away by a police to Whakatane hospital.
Two of the younger children were being treated for mild hypothermia.
The group were spotted down a steep ravine between two waterfall, in a valley close to what's locally known as No Name Creek.
They had been dropped off on Tuesday near the northern side of the forest.
Their one-hour walk turned into a fight for survival as they braved freezing temperatures.
Eastern Bay of Plenty Area Commander Inspector Kevin Taylor was there when they were found.
"They were discovered by the search team in the middle of the search area at about 3.45 which is a great outcome," he said.
Relief flooded him when he was told of their discovery.
"I'm sure it was 10 times that for the family up here."
"While we were fully prepared to keep searching through the night if needed, all are relieved and thankful that the group won't be having to endure a third cold night in the bush."
The woman and children had originally gone for a walk in Te Urewera, south of Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty.
They had been dropped off near the northern side of the forest at 1pm on Tuesday, at the Otamatuna Ridge Track. They intended to go for a one to two-hour walk.
Police were informed the five had failed to return at 4pm on Wednesday. They were found about 3.45pm on Thursday and winched out by helicopter, then taken to be assessed.
Speaking at the Tuhoe headquarters in Taneatua, Te Kura Whare, Taylor said the group had dropped down from an un-named track in the middle of the search area.
"The scenario was exactly what LandSAR (Search and Rescue New Zealand) had predicted, in that they dropped down onto the river bed. They are all alive and we believe at this stage that their conditions are okay,"
The woman with the children was not their mother but understood to be a relative, Taylor told the Beacon, adding that the mother of some of the children had been travelling from Perth and was driving from Auckland to Waimana when news broke that the group had been found.
Family members had helped with the rescue, he told the Beacon, but he could not comment on why it took so long for the police to be notified that the group was missing.
"As soon as we found out we launched a major search and we carried out that search throughout the night and that same search has carried on today with 11 teams in the bush," Taylor said.
"Our focus, since we became aware, has been on searching for the group and we have got an excellent result so now we can go and ask other questions."
The woman and children were taken to the Lion's Hut, he said, where they would receive preliminary medical attention.
He added: "We acknowledge the fantastic efforts of all of the search teams, including LandSAR volunteers and police staff, who have been working tirelessly to find them.
"Also, a huge thank you to the people of Tuhoe who have provided excellent support throughout the search operation, and to the New Zealand Defence Force who offered assistance."
Police have not released the names of the woman and children involved, but said their families had been advised of the good news.
Glenn Mitchell, from Tuhoe Te Uru Te Taumatua which runs the 211,000-hectare block, confirmed the group were local people from Waimana, a small settlement near Whakatane.
He described the area, Waimana Valley, as "rugged country" which was "fully bush clad".
There were walking tracks and also tracks for pest control.
The base for the search had been Lions Hut, off Matahi Valley Rd, about 45km south of Whakatane. The hut is near the start of the Otamatuna track, leading up to the ridge which is the focus of the search.
The Department of Conservation website describes the track as climbing steeply to the ridge.
Tramping tracks in the area are described as "advanced", meaning they are suitable for people with a moderate to high level of experience in back-country tramping.
Taika Waititi's recent hit film Hunt for the Wilderpeople, about a boy and his guardian who go bush, is set in the Ureweras.
Mountain Safety Council chief executive Mike Daisley said the area was a beautiful place to go for a day walk with children but it fast became rugged terrain. "If you get separated from the track it can be hard to find your way back."
Children could easily become separated and lead others off track, he said.
Daisley said it was the third incident in just over a week where walkers or hunters had found themselves experiencing an "unexpected night out" in the wilderness and it was the second incident involving an adult and a group of children.