Three young children from Rotorua came within metres of a shark while paddling in the surf at Castlepoint Beach on Boxing Day.

Their mother, Andrea Pollard, said the close encounter with the marine predator was fortunately nothing more than a memorable holiday interlude for her two sons and daughter, who range in age from three to seven.

"We just went out there for the day and the kids were in playing in the sea, when a guy came and tapped my husband on the shoulder -- I think he was a tourist -- and he said 'I think you better get your kids out of the water, there's a shark'."

The shark came within about five metres of her children at the closest and they were all evacuated from the water in a flash, Mrs Pollard said, while more and more people started to crowd the tideline to catch a glimpse of the animal.

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"It was just swimming around in the bay and when you're standing there on the beach it looked large, not huge, but it was the first time we'd ever seen a shark in the sea," she said.

"There wasn't too many people on the beach but once the shark came closer, then all of a sudden lots of people were there trying to get a look. It just swam round for a while and then took off."

Mrs Pollard said the family usually go to Ohope Beach for a day in the surf although she was unaware of any shark sightings there.