FEARS are growing as emergency services in New Zealand hunt for a missing hiker from south Essex.

Stephanie Simpson, 32, is believed to have gone for a hike over the weekend and was reported missing at roughly 8.45am on Monday morning when she failed to keep an appointment.

Stephanie, originally from Basildon and a member of a running group in Southend, moved to New Zealand in November last year. According to her Facebook page, she moved to Wanaka, a resort town on the South Island.

A spokesman for Stephanie’s friends told the New Zealand Herald yesterday that they were hoping for news as soon as possible.

The spokesman said: “Until they get some news, [the family] are in the dark. Just really hoping we may hear something from the foot searches.”

On Saturday, Stephanie reportedly went hiking alone in Mount Aspiring National Park.

Heavy flooding has been reported in the area, causing rivers to swell and a number of walking routes to be closed.

Two hikers were found dead in a river in the area on Friday, although it has been stated that this case is unrelated.

The Fox Glacier Alpine cliff rescue team, a search dog and handler, and Wanaka LandSAR volunteers are all involved in finding the keen walker.

The search area, spanning around 24km, takes in Fantail Falls to Mountt Brewster, the Brewster Hut and Mt Armstrong track, and also Makarora Valley.

A friend told the New Zealand Herald that Stephanie was fit, capable, and accustomed to outdoor sports, adding: “She’s a really beautiful, kind-hearted person. She can make friends in an instant, she’s awesome.”

A spokesperson for New Zealand Police said: “If anyone was on the track over the weekend who stayed in the Cameron Flat area on Friday and may have spoken to Stephanie, or seen her on the track from Fantail Falls to Mt Armstrong, or in Makarora Valley, please let us know.”