Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Coromandel tourist jewel tops list of risky beaches

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

Tourist-pulling Hot Water Beach has been revealed as New Zealand's most treacherous of the summer.

Its lifeguards pulled more than 100 people from the surf this season.

And the number of rescues made outside patrol hours - often by local residents - would total about half of that figure, says the captain of the beach's surf life saving club.

The most dramatic rescues outside of club hours this summer included two Auckland men, one of whom was found unconscious and floating face-down in the water after at first being mistaken for a rock.

Lifeguards joined members of the public in working on the men on the beach, both of whom later made a full recovery despite having been close to death.

In November, local teen Beau Hamilton prevented what could have been the beach's worst tragedy when he helped save several people, among them a New Yorker who cried and prayed as he helped her to the shore.

The 107 rescues at the beach have eclipsed its tally of 88 last year, and about half of the 60 guards of the Trust Waikato Hot Water Beach Lifeguard Service had each clocked up more than 100 volunteer hours this season, chairman Gary Hinds said.

"It's been pushed as a destination for tourists over the last few years, and a lot of them we get coming here have no understanding of our water conditions," he said.

"Even last week in low tide and in the middle of the day, we had 400 to 500 people on the beach, and they just come and sit down in the hot pools, see the sea in front of them and think they can go straight out for a swim."

Because most beach visitors were tourists, education about its rips was difficult - and the many warning signs set up were often ignored.

While the club had a well-trained and experienced membership, Mr Hinds believed its patrolling hours needed to be extended at both ends of the season to better deal with the tourist influx.

Other beaches with high rescue totals included Raglan, Whangamata, Omanu, Muriwai, Piha, Papamoa and Bethells Beach, according to Surf Life Saving New Zealand figures for the season so far.

The nationwide number of rescues - 986 so far - was expected to rise to between 1000 and 1100 by the end of the season, a figure lower than previous years.

Surf Life Saving NZ programmes and services general manager Brett Sullivan said the temporary closure of beaches during the Rena disaster had played a part in the change, as had poor weather over the holiday period.

"There was a spike for sure in that mid-January period when things turned brighter and the skies were sunnier."

But despite the lower numbers, too many beachgoers were ignoring basic safety messages such as checking forecasts, patrolling hours and dangers at beaches, knowing their limits and ensuring they were not alone.

Instead of swimming between the flags at patrolled beaches, many had chosen unpatrolled spots or swam outside patrol hours.

"Too many people have done some silly things and too many people have drowned."

The number of "preventive actions" - in which lifeguards had spotted the potential for danger, recorded this season was also expected to match or exceed previous totals.

- NZ Herald

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