The size of the search crew looking for autistic man Nigel Peterson more than doubled on Wednesday - yet he has still not been found.

It's been five days since the 33-year-old went missing in Rotorua.

Distraught family of the man say they are dumbfounded that Nigel seems to have "disappeared off the face of the earth".

A total of 42 police staff and volunteers separated into search parties today and combed the city streets and door knocked houses.

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The volunteers are a mix of police staff and management, Land Search and Rescue squad members from Rotorua, Tauranga and Whakatane and Nigel's family and friends from Whakatane and Opotiki.

Constable Colin Fraser, who leads the Rotorua police Search and Rescue squad, said police believed Nigel was somewhere in the vicinity of where he was last seen.

Nigel, who was under 24-hour care, was with a caregiver just after 3pm on Friday when he got out of the car on Otonga Rd and walked along Old Taupo Rd.

Fraser said police had several reports from people who thought they had seen Nigel on Friday but they had turned out to be "red herrings". Despite the false sightings, police still encouraged members of the public to come forward.

Both police and those close to Nigel said they believed he was in the area near where he was last seen because he wasn't mentally capable of getting himself further afield.

"He is somewhere. For people to sit at home and say 'it's sad he's not been found' well he might well be at their place and they need to get out and physically look for us.

"Each day we are expanding our search area out but we don't believe he has gone far. He will not be in a position to ask for help but he will need it," Fraser said.

Nigel's father, Chris Peterson, said as another day drew to an end, the reality they still hadn't found Nigel was "gutting".

"The mystery still remains. It seems he's disappeared into the cosmos."

Chris said his son grew up with them in Opotiki but had been in care since he was about 20. They had moved him from Auckland and Hamilton and eventually to Rotorua, where his mother used to live, trying to find him the best care possible.

Chris said they found that with Geneva Healthcare and he was with caregivers who "genuinely loved him".

On the day he walked off, he "got wind" he was being temporarily moved from his flat because of a water cylinder issue. Before caregivers were able to properly explain the situation, he got out of the car and walked off.

Chris said the caregiver walked after him, but found it hard to keep up so got back in her vehicle. She drove alongside him on Old Taupo Rd trying to talk him into getting back into the car.

"She went to get help and then he was gone, dropped off the face of the earth. No one is to blame, it was just one of those things.

"What happened is what Nigel does. It wasn't out of the ordinary. He always had an irrational decision making process."

Chris said he couldn't be more grateful for the help from the public and urged locals to keep looking and offering information.

Police ask anyone who has seen Nigel or who has information to contact them on (07) 348 9900.

Nigel Peterson's description
• Slim and medium height
• Wearing a green T-shirt, light brown pants, brown sneakers and possibly a denim jacket
• Often wrings his hands and could be talking to himself
• Walks with an unusual gait and leans to the side as he moves