Stephanie Simpson's devastated friends speak of heartbreak as British hiker is found dead in New Zealand

BENEDICT MOORE-BRIDGER
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Devastated friends of a British backpacker who disappeared while hiking in New Zealand have told of their heartbreak after her body was found by search teams.

Stephanie Simpson, 32, was found six days after she set off for a hike over rugged terrain in a remote part of Mount Aspiring National Park on the South Island.

Police found her body at about 1.40pm today New Zealand time in the Pyke Creek area, having earlier discovered boots and a pack believed to have belonged to her.

Blenheim Police sergeant Mark Kirkwood, who led the search, said: “Searchers located missing hiker Stephanie Simpson’s body this afternoon. Police extend their condolences to Stephanie’s family at this tragic time.”

Stephanie Simpson (Handout)

Mr Kirkwood said she appeared to have left the hiking track, taken off her boots and gone into a waterfall.

“It’s a very hazardous area. We have no idea why she went into the water,” he told the BBC, and said her death appeared to have been a tragic accident.

He added: “The search was extremely challenging at times, especially in consideration of the terrain.”

The death will now be referred to the coroner.

Ms Simpson, an outdoors enthusiast from Essex, was last seen on Saturday.

Colleagues raised the alarm when she failed to turn up to her landscaping job on Monday, sparking a search of the region where flooding claimed the lives of two other hikers at the weekend.

Police deployed a thermal-imaging drone, dog teams and a helicopter in the search, but struggled to make progress because of the size and terrain of the area.

Her parents, Sally and Trevor Simpson, flew to New Zealand earlier this week to help with the search, while others set up a fundraising page to support the rescue efforts.

Friends paid tribute online. Close friend Danny Kilbane wrote: “We are all heartbroken and are going to struggle to come to terms with our loss.

“Steph you will be missed by all more than words can explain. RIP angel.”

Another said: “Stephanie was a bright light amongst many and will be sadly missed.”

Ms Simpson had moved to Wanaka three months ago after a stint travelling in Australia. Relatives said she had moved to the area specifically to enjoy hiking and outdoor pursuits.

Her brother-in-law Sam Hazelton said she had gone for a “normal weekend tramp ... just to make the most of that free time”.

He said she was extremely sporty and fit, loved exploring the outdoors, and was an “extremely determined and strong-willed person”.

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British hiker missing in New Zealand found dead