A devastated family ran to the sea to try to save a 19-year-old man who fell in from rocks at Muriwai Beach, but he drowned before rescuers could reach him.
The family, who had been to the notorious beach on Auckland's west coast to fish, gathered on the beach to watch as surf lifesavers recovered the body about 1.30pm yesterday.
This year 77 people have drowned nationwide and yesterday's tragedy is the latest in a series of incidents at Muriwai in recent months.
Water-safety campaigners have renewed their calls for people to take care and pay attention to warning signs at beaches, while surf lifesavers say Muriwai is dangerous no matter how calm conditions are.
The Pacific Island family had been at the beach for only a short time when the teenager fell about 11.50am as he prepared to go fishing.
The man's brother wanted to leave his belongings at the spot he'd fallen from, but police said he could not as people might think another person had fallen in and raise the alarm.
Victoria Prasad, 19, who was at the beach, said: "[The family] just took off screaming, it was horrible."
Police said the man was not wearing a life jacket and his death would be reported to the coroner.
Tom Burgess, of Surf Lifesaving northern region, said life guards helped with the search but warned beachgoers of the "treacherous conditions this time of year".
"People need to be aware of their limits and be prepared [for] what the conditions will be like," he said.
As the weather improved and more people headed to the beach there was a real need for people to be careful about what they're doing, "because this is a dangerous place".
That included when there were very calm conditions, he said.
Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said there was no substitute for local knowledge or familiarity with a site.
There had been 41 deaths between 2007 and 2011 involving land-based fishing and Mr Claridge said basic safety precautions were needed.
"The messages are people shouldn't fish on wet rocks, never turn your back on the sea, cut your line instead of trying to free it and wear a life jacket."
The drowning total for the same time last year was 102 and Mr Claridge was hopeful last year's total - which was a record at 123 - would not be repeated.
"I don't think we'll get up to that level but anything can happen.
"I'll never be complacent to suggest we're on to a winner this year but the thing is it doesn't matter how many people have drowned to date, people could still drown tomorrow.
"It doesn't mean people should be more blase and more relaxed."
Last month a man fell into a blowhole at Muriwai Beach and he had to be airlifted to hospital, while in August a Russian man fell 4m on to rocks near a blowhole area.
He was thrown a life ring and kept afloat until he could be hauled to safety.