The number of people who died in water over the recent holiday break has matched last year's grim toll of 10, worsening average Christmas drowning statistics.

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge described the loss of lives as a "tragic result". Three more people drowned than the five-year average of seven over the official Christmas-New Year holiday period, which ran from 4pm on Christmas Eve to 6am today.

He said it was particularly disappointing given the organisation's pre-Christmas water safety campaign.

"The toll is gut-wrenching. So many families have lost loved ones - a toddler, sons, daughters, friends - and while there's a whole community of people, including coastguard to surf lifeguards, maritime officers and many others, working hard to keep New Zealanders safe in the water, we can't do it alone. "We need all New Zealanders to make water safety a priority today if we're to bring our horrific drowning toll down."


Mr Claridge said six of the seven drownings happened on beaches during the first few days of the holiday. Nearly half were on Christmas Day.

Three-year-old pre-schooler Jimmy Atilua Laulu drowned during a family outing at an Hawke's Bay beach on Christmas Day, his lifeless body found in a nearby lagoon at Ocean Beach.

That same afternoon Jordan James Marshall (17) was swept away in a rip in Castle Cliff Beach in Wanganui, and 38-year-old Chinese nationals Xia Liu and 33-year-old Ji Shun Li drowned after getting into difficulty in a rip at Ruapuke Beach in Raglan.

The following day 82-year-old British woman drowned in a pond on her Kerikeri property.

A 22-year-old Nepalese man Pawan Kumar Khadka was found dead at Mt Maunganui Beach in the early hours of December 27 and the following day a Wellington man Tamahou Wanoa (53) drowned at Puatai Beach, Gisborne while snorkelling with friends.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand national lifesaving manager Allan Mundy said New Zealand's beaches were a favourite playground for holidaymakers but they could also be dangerous.

"The alarming statistics reiterate the need to always swim between the flags at a patrolled location - none of these drownings took place between the flags."

Mr Mundy said people should not overestimate their abilities in the surf, shouldn't swim alone and should keep small children within arm's reach at all times.

Mr Claridge said three deaths in the first three days set the new year off to a disastrous start.

On New Year's Day, 29-year-old Quincy Anthony Gaskin died swimming with friends at a Bay of Plenty waterfall.

A 32-year-old man canyoning alone near Table Mountain in the Coromandel got into difficulties and died on January 2 and the following day a 32-year-old tramper was washed away while crossing Deception River on the West Coast.