Dangerous seas led to a suspected drowning and a rescue drama at Northland beaches at the weekend.

A 43-year-old Ruakaka woman was pulled from the ocean unconscious about 11.30am yesterday after helping save her children from big waves at Ruakaka Beach near Marsden Pt.

Whangarei police Sergeant Craig Burrows said when the children got into trouble in the water the woman and a friend had gone in to rescue them.

The friend and the children had reached the shore, but the woman had got out of her depth. A tourist, seeing she was struggling, had entered the water and dragged her on to the beach.


When St John paramedics arrived, the woman was dead.

At Matapouri Beach, the swell was 1.8m high and a king tide was making the sea dangerous when a man was caught in a rip and taken out to sea on Saturday.

Whangarei police officer Shane Dunn was rescued by two men on surfboards who paddled through the waves to reach him.

Mr Dunn said he was swimming when he felt himself being pulled out to sea around 5pm. "I knew I was in a rip and I've always told my mates, 'If you ever get caught in it just let yourself drift', so I took my own advice and thought I'd try reaching the buoy."

He had clung to a buoy 200m offshore for around half an hour, hoping someone could see him. "I was prepared to hang on for as long as it took for someone to get to me," he said.

Tikipunga High School physical education teacher Jason Woods was coaching students in beach volleyball on the shore when he heard someone was in danger in the water.

He had kicked off his jandals, grabbed his surfboard and - struggling to see over the huge waves - had paddled out to the buoy, where he was joined by French tourist Anthony Guyot on a longboard he had picked up from the beach. "I'm young, I'm fit, I just thought I could help," Mr Guyot said.

Mr Woods said Mr Dunn was distressed when the pair reached him, and was suffering from cramp in his legs.

"He kept wanting to rest, but I just said to him 'We've got to keep moving to get through this rip'," Mr Woods said.

After around an hour of paddling and kicking they had arrived back at the beach relieved and exhausted to applause from onlookers and tearful family members.

Mr Dunn praised the men who had saved him.

"I just said, 'Thank you, guys'. It could have turned out very differently," he said.

Elsewhere the Northland Electricity Rescue Helicopter winched a middle-aged man with chest pains off a 33-metre launch anchored out to sea from Marsden Pt on Saturday night.

Pilot Pete Turnball said performing a night-time winch was always a challenge for the helicopter crew. "Initially we used a winch to put a paramedic on to the boat and then we recovered him back to the helicopter," he said.

The man was taken to Whangarei Hospital while the boat was towed to shore by Whangarei Coastguard.