A man who was attempting to bike across the Cook Strait on a paddle cycle pontoon craft has been criticised by police after sparking a massive rescue operation.

Adventurer Rick Matenga left Wellington early yesterday morning to cross the strait on his converted water cycle.

He was supported by a 16-foot support craft, but ran in trouble 12 hours into the crossing when they were still 5km from Tory Channel.

With the support vessel running low on fuel, the skipper left the cyclist and motored into Tory Channel where he arranged to get fuel from a local resident.


When he returned, he couldn't find Mr Matenga, who was not carrying any survival equipment, lights or flares.

The alarm was raised about 7.30pm and the ensuing search involved the Sea Patroller, two Coastguard vessels, Tory Channel residents, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter and the ferries.

Life Flight's Westpac Rescue Helicopter was alerted to "a guy on a bike" heading across the strait.

"I remembered reading about this guy in the newspaper," said Life Flight crewman Logan Taylor.

"The information we got was a bit sketchy. He thought he was north of the Tory Channel but he was actually quite a bit south of there."

Mr Matenga, who crossed the strait in a outrigger canoe in 1995, was spotted by the rescue helicopter about 9pm and picked up by the Coastguard about 2km off Fighting Bay.

Mr Logan said there was only about 15 minutes of light left. After that, it would have been near impossible to find him, he said.

"He's very lucky boy. He didn't have any lights on him or any bright clothing, so he was pretty hard to see.


"He was still under his own power, but I'm not sure that he was getting very far with the winds and the tide."

The helicopter crew gave him a quick assessment but did not require medical attention.

Police today slammed the pair, who were ill-prepared and "made poor decisions".

The skipper of the support vehicle told police they had anticipated the crossing would take about six hours.

Police search and rescue coordinator Nigel Young said the man was very lucky to have been found.

He said conditions were deteriorating, it was getting dark and the information police had was that he did not have food, water or flares.

"This man could easily have ended up losing his life," Mr Young said.

"We put a lot of resources into trying to find him and we're extremely relieved to have succeeded in that."

Mr Young said the skipper of the support vessel was then advised by all parties involved in the search to remain in the Sounds overnight. He ignored that advice and returned across Cook Strait in the dark.

"That action could easily have resulted in a further rescue being required," he said.

"That man's actions were completely irresponsible and the risk he took was entirely unnecessary."