Key Points:

Holidaymaker David Craige was teaching his daughter Mackenna to surf when he went through "the most painful thing I've ever endured".

As blood poured from his wetsuit, the American was sure he'd been bitten by a shark.

But, after pushing his daughter 50 metres to safety and staggering along the sand, he saw he had been attacked by a stingray.

"I didn't even know I had stepped on it until the barb went through my shin," he said. "It happened in the blink of an eye. My initial reaction was 'Oh my God, I've been bitten by a shark'. I had a wetsuit on and blood was just gushing out and my daughter started to really get hysterical - it went right through my wetsuit."

Mr Craige told Mackenna, 10, to find her mother and call 111.

As he continued staggering up Otaki beach north of Wellington on Sunday, he became faint and called for help from a woman walking her dog.

The woman held a towel to Mr Craige's leg, in addition to the do-it-yourself tourniquet he had made by folding his wetsuit leg up around his thigh, until emergency services arrived.

"She was wearing this beautiful yellow cardigan - a sweater - that I just soaked in blood," he said.

"All I know is her name is Annie and she had this little black and brown terrier. I'd love to get in contact with her and purchase her a new sweater."

Mr Craige said it was about an hour before the rural ambulance vehicle he was rescued from the beach in was met by another ambulance with paramedics who gave him morphine and took him to hospital in Palmerston North.

"It was the longest ride of my life."

Mr Craige, who is from the small ski resort town of Telluride, Colorado, and his wife Kimmy sold their electrical business and, with their three children, travelled to New Zealand in September for a taste of living like a Kiwi until returning home this July.

They bought a caravan to travel the country in, but are currently staying in Upper Moutere, near Nelson.

Mr Craige said he had always wanted to learn to surf but living in a mountain town made it impossible, which was why he bought a surfboard as soon as he came here.

He said the experience had not put him off getting back in the water but he was not sure about Mackenna.

"It might be a while before I can get her back surfing. I'm not going to push her."

Stingray victims:

October: An Auckland man suffers four stingray puncture wounds around his knee while snorkelling off Kawau Island.

April: Commercial fisherman Dan Rawlinson is stung in the leg by a stingray caught in a net off Motiti Island, off the coast of Tauranga.

September, 2006: Crocodile hunter Steve Irwin dies when a stingray barb pierces his chest off Australia's Great Barrier Reef.