Sandra Dent remembers what happened at Taupo Bay three summers ago.

About 40 people had needed rescuing from the water before the holiday period was over, she said, and while none lost their lives, that was more down to good luck than good management.

One child had been unresponsive when he was pulled from the water, and was admitted to Kaitaia Hospital. Another boy had been "pretty close" to drowning, and a local resident had needed resuscitating.

A basic life-saving device has been tied to a tree at Cable Bay, scene of a drowning over the holiday season.
A basic life-saving device has been tied to a tree at Cable Bay, scene of a drowning over the holiday season.

Mrs Dent had herself seen a group of four people in trouble, and had raced to the rescue boxes to grab some flotation devices. They were broken, and crumbled when she touched them.

Advertisement

That was enough to convince her that something needed to be done, so she, another local, Mary Goodbehere, and a few others set about doing it.

"We put the word out, and started a small group, Taupo Bay Community Care," she said.

One of five rescue boxes that have been placed on the beach at Taupo Bay.
One of five rescue boxes that have been placed on the beach at Taupo Bay.

Her son Che, once a life guard at Muriwai, built five rescue boxes, volunteering his time to do so, and they have now had their second summer on the beach. Each box contains two rescue tubes and two pairs of fins, along advice on using them and a plea to the public to protect them.

The signs state that only strong swimmers should attempt a rescue, and that someone should be sent for "extra assistance."

Sandwich boards have also been made, and placed on the beach to warn of rips, advising what to look for and what to do when caught in one.

Taupo Bay Camping Ground owners agreed to contribute the proceeds of the 2016 Easter fishing competition, which paid for the boxes, rescue tubes and fins, and for major upgrading of the publicly available first aid gear. The local fire brigade also supported the effort.

Equipment, including a backpack first aid kit, oxygen, a defibrillator (the old one had an expired battery), a loud hailer, torches, ropes and other gear was now stored a room to which everyone had access.

The public response had been gratifying, Mrs Dent said. People were often seen reading the sandwich boards — about prevention as well as rescues — and in two summers nothing had been stolen, although fins had been 'borrowed' on occasion.

Surf Life Saving NZ had not entirely liked the idea of rescue tubes being available to all, seeing the potential for a would-be rescuer to drown, but what Taupo Bay was doing was "better than what happened at Cable bay," where a father died while trying to rescue his children. A polystyrene flotation device has now been tied to a tree there, above the beach).

It had involved a good deal of work, but if one life was saved the effort would be worthwhile, she said.

"Who wants to see a kid drown?" Conditions yesterday posed significant danger, with a big swell and a couple of holes on the beach.

Thoughts were now turning to producing rescue boxes for other beaches, at Doubtless Bay and perhaps every beach north of Taupo Bay. Her son would be happy to maintain them, at a cost, but he didn't know who to approach.