A Waihi beach fisherman has told the Bay of Plenty Times how he found an upside-down boat at Bowentown Heads last night, shortly before a search was mounted for a missing 52-year-old man.
The fisherman, Warren Coffey, said he and his friend were returning from a fishing trip when they saw the upside-down boat and approached it.
Mr Coffey noticed four people on the island waving for help. He approached them and realised they were children.
He asked them if anyone else was missing and when they told him their father had been with them but was now missing, Mr Coffey informed the coast guard. He then took the children to shore.
Kiri Gillespie of the Bay of Plenty Times
A rogue wave is thought to have caused a boat containing a father and his four children to capsize near Tauranga yesterday.
The children, aged between seven and 23, were able to swim to Matakana Island, but their 52-year-old father is still missing.
The search for him was to resume at first light.
The drama began after the 4.3m boat they were in flipped between Bowentown and the island about 5pm, police said.
Sergeant Dave Litton said it appeared a rogue wave caused the boat to capsize.
"The four younger people managed to swim to shore on Matakana Island but were unable to raise the alarm until they flagged down a passing boat about 7.30pm and this vessel brought the group ashore and the alarm was raised about 8pm," Mr Litton said.
The group were treated by ambulance staff while a rescue helicopter and two inflatable boats from the local surf club were launched to search the water.
At the same time, 10 members of a Waihi-based mines rescue unit were transported to Matakana Island to search the shoreline while local firefighters scoured the Waihi Beach-Bowentown coast.
The missing man could not be found and the search was stood down shortly before midnight.
Mr Litton said the rescue was a "whole community response".
"It's in situations such as this that the true spirit of the community really comes to the fore and Waikato police would like to thank all those involved so far," Mr Litton said.
"At this point it is not clear if all of the persons in the boat were wearing life jackets at the time it overturned but it understood life jackets were being carried aboard the vessel."
The incident followed the drowning of a man in rough conditions at an unpatrolled beach in the Coromandel, prompting a warning from Surf Life Saving New Zealand.
The man, in his 40s, died at Opito Bay, northeast of Whitianga, about 2.45pm yesterday, the second of two beach deaths over the Auckland Anniversary long weekend.
The man was alive but unconscious when medics arrived, police said. He could not be revived.
Strong southeasterly winds and swells forced surf lifesavers to close nearby Hot Water Beach.
"There is no place we could deem safe to swim, due to the size of the swell and the rips coming through," said Surf Life Saving New Zealand club development officer Matthew Williams.
"We can't patrol every beach but we can educate every New Zealander. Know your limits."
The incident came about 15 hours after the discovery of the body of a Te Puke 26-year-old who had been long-line-fishing at Otamarakau beach in the Western Bay of Plenty.
Meanwhile, a diver was in a moderate condition after being pulled from the water at Goat Island, on the east coast north of Auckland, about 3.30pm.
And three people with hypothermia were pulled from the water at Piha about 7.45 last night and flown to hospital by the Westpac helicopter.
Last year, 93 New Zealanders drowned, the second lowest total on record.