Two men are being hailed as heroes in their isolated coastal community after dragging a woman from her burning home on Sunday night and performing CPR until emergency services arrived.
The 72-year-old woman, who was the sole occupant of the house, died despite their efforts, those of other neighbours, St John medics, volunteer firefighters and police who responded to Monday night's blaze at Taemaro Bay.
The century-old house did not have electricity, the woman relying on candles for light and gas for cooking.
Gary Watson was among the first to notice the blaze, just after 10pm.
''I looked out the window and it was all red. I jumped in my truck and went down there. The fire was really going for it," he said.
The front door was open but he couldn't see anyone inside at first.
''I yelled and yelled, and I heard her murmur. Then when I looked into the fire I saw her legs. I went in, grabbed her legs and pulled her out. As soon as I got her out the front just took off and the house pretty much collapsed.''
The kuia was still conscious enough to tell Watson off for being rough as he dragged her outside.
Mark Peterson was asleep a few houses away when the sound of Watson's teenage son tearing past on a motorbike woke him. With no cellphone coverage in the bay, the young Watson was on his way to one of the few homes with a landline so he could raise the alarm.
Watson arrived to find Watson calling for help as the woman lost consciousness. The former firefighter began CPR while another neighbour, who did not want to be named, used the bay's defibrillator in a bid to restart her heart. They continued until St John paramedics arrived.
Volunteer firefighters responded from Mangonui and Taupō Bay, but with the settlement located at the end of a long, steep, private road, there was nothing left to save once they arrived.
Next day Watson and Peterson were described within the tight-knit community as heroes, but they demurred.
''It's just normal, it's natural instinct. If you see anybody in a fire and you have a moment to save them, you jump in and do it,'' Watson said.
''I think we were just helping each other out,'' Peterson added.
The woman, who was understood to have two children in the Wellington area, returned to ancestral land about 15 years ago, and had lived alone in the oldest house in Taemaro Bay since her husband's death. Taemaro resident Sandra Heihei said the whole community had gathered together to help, from those who delivered tea and biscuits at 2am to the kaumātua who arrived at first light to bless the site.
She was ''really, really thankful'' to the emergency services who had attended, despite Taemaro's challenging access.
''It was very humbling,'' she said.
She described the deceased as an active and kind-hearted woman who ''gave and shared a lot without saying anything.'' With her children living far away she had become something of a communal nanny, locals taking turns to mow her lawns, take her shopping and take books to her. Though her home was small and in poor condition, she had refused to leave.
''She loved Taemaro and that house. That's why she'd never leave," Heihei said.
Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Dalzell confirmed on Monday that a 72-year-old woman had died as the result of a house on Taemaro Bay Rd. Police were working to establish the circumstances around her death, and were conducting a scene examination along with Fire and Emergency investigators.
"While our enquiries are in their very early stages, the death is not being treated as suspicious," he added.