Hot Water Beach keeps lifeguards busy

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

New Zealand's most treacherous beach, Hot Water Beach, is already on its way to racking up another high rescue count in 2013, with lifeguards and locals pulling 25 swimmers out of the surf in the first week of the year.

The spate of rescues since New Year's Day has led to fresh calls for more funding for the Trust Waikato Hot Water Beach Lifeguard Service which, at 107 rescues, had the highest number of any patrolled beach in the country last season.

Winds and difficult conditions kept lifeguards busy at a number of beaches throughout the North Island - but with only one fatality.

The man who lost his life - Jarrett Simeon, 27, of Feilding - is believed to have been swimming outside the flags when he drowned at Himatangi Beach on Saturday.

Yesterday at Hahei, surfers helped pull up to 20 swimmers from the water about 2.15pm.

A fire service spokesman said only two who were rescued needed treatment on the beach after swallowing water while caught in a rip.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand club development officer Matt Williams said it was a dangerous day for swimmers to be wading into the water on unpatrolled beaches.

"Hahei isn't normally a dangerous beach [but] it was not the day to swim," Mr Williams said.

"If you're going to go to a beach, make sure you swim between the flags. We push our Find a Beach website ... it tells you where the nearest patrolled beach is."

A man and his 8-year-old son were winched to safety after rising tides trapped the pair on rocks at Whakatane Heads yesterday afternoon.

The TrustPower TECT rescue helicopter was called to the area about 3.15pm after the pair became trapped while fishing.

A large swell prevented life boats from reaching the father and son, pilot Todd Dunham said.

An 18-year-old lifeguard showed extreme courage when she swam from a rescue boat to assist the pair and comfort them until the helicopter arrived, Mr Dunham said.

At Hot Water Beach, surf club chairman Gary Hinds said two of the most dramatic rescues within the past week came just hours after New Year - and in both cases the swimmers had been drinking.

One involved a middle-aged female tourist and the other a Kiwi male, both near the middle carpark area at the visitor hotspot.

"We had to do a fair bit of running just to get out there to help them - if we hadn't gone out to bring them in, the next step wasn't going to be a good one for them," Mr Hinds said.

Club lifeguards made about 16 rescues last week, while surfers and other beachgoers had pulled about 10 more from the waves.

A dangerous rip just metres from the beach, combined with the thousands of international tourists that flock to its famous natural hot pools, has long been blamed for a disproportionate number of rescues.

This summer, the shape of the beach was slightly different and the rips weren't pulling as hard as they were last year, Mr Hinds said.

Mr Hinds has previously called for the patrol hours of the locally funded club to be extended at either end of the season to reflect its year-round status as a busy tourist destination.

"It is getting better but it comes down to funding. To me, I just don't understand how they can spend millions overseas to advertise New Zealand, but they can't look after the place where it's all going to go wrong."

There's likely to be little let up for lifeguards as fine weather is predicted to stay for the next couple of days with temperatures reaching as high as 30C in holiday hotspots Tauranga and Mt Maunganui.

Although rain is expected later in the week, temperatures will remain in the mid-20s. MetService forecaster John Law said a weather system from the tropics was bringing in rain and high winds for some areas.

-additional reporting APNZ

- Hamilton News

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