Mounds of shells spelling out "Jack" in big capitals letters now look out over the rocks where, two years ago today, 5-year-old Jack Dixon was swept to sea.

The sun was shining and Jack was playing with family members at Shelley Beach on the northern side of Mauao when a freak wave came and swept him off the rocks. His two cousins were also caught by the wave but managed to scramble to safety.

A rescue effort was quickly mounted and scores of volunteers spent two weeks combing the mountain, rocks and ocean, to no avail.

The pain of the little boy's disappearance was felt far and wide, with members of the community holding candlelight vigils, releasing balloons and leaving tributes at Mauao's base track near where he was swept to sea.

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Today, bits of string and shells are all that is left of those tributes, but Jack's memory has not faded.

A new tribute has sprung up ahead of the second anniversary of his death in the form of mounds of shells spelling out his name.

Kent Jarman, a stalwart of Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service, was involved in the search right from the start.

He carries a sense of frustration that Jack was never found.

"The club worked incredibly hard on the water for effectively 14 days to try and find the wee little fellow, to no avail.

"Personally, I have a sense of frustration, of unfinished business, that we couldn't return him to his family."

Mr Jarman said passing Shelley Beach always brought the boy's memory to mind.

"These things stay with you. We dwell on the good things that have happened, but we lock away those sorts of things and revisit them now and again.

"You always ask yourself, what else? Could you have done anything better? I think that's just a natural human response to anything like that.

"We left no stone unturned trying to find him."

Mr Jarman said he and other searchers were impressed and humbled by the depth of community involvement in the response.

"It was quite humbling to see. We live in a pretty neat society, unfortunately we don't always see it, but times like that bring out the best in people.

"The average Kiwi is a pretty good person."

Inspector Karl Wright-St Clair, who headed the police search for Jack, said the boy's disappearance was "one of those experiences you never want to go through again".

He said Jack's death was something he would always remember at this time of year.

"I still feel for the family, it must still be very raw for them two years down the track.

"I was just thinking about Jack the other day on the way to work. One of my most vivid memories of that whole thing was when I was being interviewed by the media the first time, one of the reporters had tears streaming down her face.

"It just goes to show that people like that who are fairly hardened to their work, it certainly affected a whole lot of people in the community."

Mr Wright-St Clair said police officers involved in the search for Jack talked to each other about it at this time of year.

He said it was hard knowing Jack's body was never returned to his family.

"I just hope it never happens again."