A 12-year-old Tauranga boy on holiday in Napier is having difficulty sleeping after he was subjected to a "savage and prolonged attack" by a grown man.

Tyrese Nohokau's holiday in Napier is coming to an early end following the attack by the man, who was biking along a cycleway in the suburb of Taradale.

Police say it appeared the man had taken what the boy said the wrong way and confronted him before the attack began.

The boy was taken to Hawke's Bay Hospital for treatment for superficial injuries.


Tyrese and two of his friends were walking near the cycleway, having returned from a swim in the river on Tuesday afternoon.

His mother Michelle said she spent an hour on the phone to Tyrese on Tuesday night and he told her he was scared to go to sleep in case the man came back.

"I talked to him until he went off to sleep," she said, but he woke up in the night "fearful he would come and get him".

She described it as "just horrible" and said that, minutes after she was contacted by a St John Ambulance officer and police, she began making plans to get to Napier to bring him home.

Ms Nohokau said she grew up in Taradale and the family regularly went down to the river for a swim. Tyrese and his mates had made several visits there this time.

"How could something like that happen in this really nice quiet area?"

She said she would be taking time away from her work to pick Tyrese up today. Her son often holidayed in Napier, as that was where her parents lived, and had made many friends during his stays with them.

He arrived two days after Christmas and it was planned he would stay for the rest of the school holidays.

He had lived in Tauranga since he was about 2 but enjoyed his holidays in Hawke's Bay with his grandparents - until Tuesday.

The incident was described by Hawke's Bay police acting Sergeant Andy Clinton as "diabolical".

Mr Clinton said it appeared the cyclist, described as in his 40s or 50s and wearing black pants and a grey top, took exception to what the youngster called out to him.

The boys, who were all left shaken by what happened, were asked by police in the wake of the assault what had been said.

Mr Clinton said the boys said they were just "clowning around" and that the boy had yelled out "hi" to the man - and that he appeared to take it the wrong way.

"But regardless of what might have been said. these were just kids being kids. This boy got a real hiding." Mr Clinton said the young victim told police the man approached him and grabbed him by the throat.

"He then allegedly punched the victim and put him in a headlock, and this caused him to fall down a stock bank."

Mr Clinton said the man then chased the boy down the bank, re-applied the headlock and kicked him in the back before making off.

The three boys ran to a nearby carpark and told people there what had happened and police were called.

The man rode off but about 30 minutes later returned to the area and was seen by a member of the public, who gave chase but was unable to get to him as he cycled off in the direction of Carters Arms Park.

"This was a savage and prolonged attack by a grown man on a boy barely able to defend himself," Mr Clinton said.

"It was a seemingly unprovoked and diabolical attack carried out and in public in broad daylight.

"It could have been so much worse for the poor young fella."

He said the boy was left "very shaken up". Police inquiries are continuing.