It was an uncanny case of right place, right time - a young woman saved from drowning at a remote beach by a group of lifeguards who shouldn't have been there.

Phillippa Hofman was swimming on Friday with boyfriend Jack Teppett and his father Ross Teppett at Te Rangiharu Bay on the East Coast.

A strong rip pulled Phillippa and Ross about 60m out in rough seas.

Jack, who had made it to shore, ran and alerted two lifeguards who were the support crew for six lifeguards circumnavigating the country in two small rescue boats.

The crew were there only because strong winds had delayed their journey.

Hofman said the rip was like quicksand.

"We realised we couldn't make it in," said the 23-year-old hairdresser. It's really scary - you try not to panic but you get quite panicky.

"When I was out there I knew there were no lifeguards. I thought, 'we're just going to have to lie here until a rescue team comes'. Then suddenly these two Greek gods came out of nowhere and saved me and pulled me in."

The two "gods" were lifeguards Andy Kent and Ash Matuschka, who were waiting for the two rescue boats to come around from the next bay.

"A guy came running up to us," said Kent.

"He said, 'my girlfriend and my dad are stuck out to sea'."

Kent and Matuschka swam out and rescued Phillippa while Ross got himself to shore.

"When we got to them we could tell it was touch and go because the rip was pulling out quite strong," said Kent.

When running to the support crew's truck Jack thought it was a patrolled beach.

"It wasn't until after that we found out that they were going around the country."

Watching his father and girlfriend being swept away made him feel "helpless", but "it could have been a lot worse," said the 23-year-old student.

He and Phillippa shouted the lifeguards a drink later.

"It was a miracle really," said Hofman. "It was such a coincidence that they were there.

"I'm definitely going to donate lots of money to lifesaving from now on."

Union worker Ross, 50, said he got back to shore "alright in the end" but "it was rough".

Kent in particular was "absolutely brilliant".

The two rescue boats are doing a 5200km circumnavigation of New Zealand to commemorate 100 years of lifesaving in New Zealand.

Kent said the crews had meant to travel further yesterday but strong northwesterlies cut the travel distance. Voyage co-leader Matuschka said completing a rescue on such a voyage meant a lot to the teams.

The teams plan to round the Coromandel Peninsula today and hope to complete their journey in Auckland tomorrow.