A kayaker who capsized in wild Northland weather last night was embarking on his usual 10-minute commute home from work.
The 62-year-old left work at the Marsden Point oil refinery about 6.30pm to kayak across the Whangarei Harbour to his home in Reotahi, police said.
When he hadn't arrived at 9.20pm, police were alerted, and a search launched using the Whangarei Coastguard and Northland Emergency Services Trust Helicopter.
About 12.30am this morning, the helicopter crew using thermal imaging equipment found the man.
A rescue boat, Circa Rescue, plucked him out of the freezing water soon after, about 1.5km off the coast near Ruakaka Beach.
He was described as being "cold and wet but conscious" and complaining of leg cramp.
Coastguard volunteers treated him for hypothermia while he was transported to a waiting ambulance where his relieved family were also waiting for his safe return.
Coastguard Rescue vessel volunteer skipper John Haselden said the kayaker had been moments from reaching Reotahi when a current, together with waves, flipped him out of his kayak.
"His inflatable life jacket worked a treat and inflated upon contact with the water however this made it difficult for the kayaker to try and get himself back into his kayak," Mr Haselden said.
"He made the decision to deflate his life jacket so he could again attempt to get back on board the kayak but by this time the kayak was swamped and he was being taken out to sea.
"Survival instincts kicked in and he wrapped his arms through the deck lines of the kayak using its buoyancy as a flotation device."
After a while his strobe stopped working. However, his thermal clothing and water proof jacket provided some protection from the elements, rescuers say.
Reflecting on the incident this morning the survivor, identified only as 'Mark' by the rescuers, said he was so very grateful to the volunteers that came to his rescue.
"I never thought my usual 10 minute trip home in my kayak would turn into seven hours out there drifting alone with no way of calling for help," he said.
"It was such a relief to see the Coastguard boat heading towards me and be heading back to shore.
" I'm so grateful to them. And to think they're all volunteers?"
Mark says he hasn't been put off the incident, however remains grateful for his lifejacket and will be quickly looking to purchase a marine VHF Radio and personal locator beacon ensuring that in future he has waterproof forms of communication.
Meanwhile, Northland Police Search and Rescue's Senior Sergeant Cliff Metcalfe said the actions of the man were bordering on "stupid", and he placed rescuers lives at risk.
"There was already a weather warning in place for Northland with heavy rain, gale force winds and atrocious conditions on the water."