A group of off-duty junior lifeguards - some as young as 14 - are being praised for the remarkable rescue of three adults caught in a rip at Hot Water Beach.
A fourth victim, a middle aged man, died after the group were pulled from the heavy swell and strong currents shortly after 5pm yesterday.
His death at Hot Water Beach followed two water fatalities on Saturday, when 17-year-old Hamish Rieger was swept off a rock out to sea at Mt Maunganui and a 55-year-old man drowned at Long Beach, Russell.
It was also one of three serious incidents that hospitalised five people today alone.
Surf Lifesaving New Zealand's Leigh Sefton said the drama unfolded shortly after 5pm when the patrol had finished for the day.
He said the senior lifeguards had left, but a group of junior guards - aged between 14- and 16-years-old - were waiting to be picked up by their parents.
"They were too far away to see, but this group of people arrived at the beach and went straight into the rip...Eventually one of them spotted what was happening and they ran up and got their tubes and fins and swam out to all four people that were in trouble.
"They swam them to shore using just a tube and fins. I can tell you it is hard enough pulling in someone your own size let alone someone much bigger."
Once ashore, the teens began doing CPR on the victims.
"It was fantastic work from the young lifeguards who had finished a long day on the beach and from my point of view that is bloody awesome."
"Unfortunately the patient they worked so hard on was deceased."
Hot Water Beach resident Gordon Pye said he saw the lifeguards pull the man and other two people out of the water, he said they appeared to be of Pacific Island descent.
"The seas are terrifically rough, it's the biggest waves I've seen for a long time and there's a lot of rips there."
Of the other victims, one was flown by Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter to Middlemore Hospital in a serious condition, and two were taken by ambulance to Thames Hospital in moderate conditions.
The tragedy occurred just hours after a spate of other close calls near Auckland.
At 3.18pm, a man in his 30s was flown from Piha by Auckland Rescue Helicopter to North Shore Hospital in a serious condition.
Minutes later, at 3.32pm, a boy in his early teens was treated at Te Arai Point for minor injuries. Then, at 4.08pm, a teenage girl was airlifted with moderate injuries from Tawharanui Regional Park after a surfing accident.
Surf Lifesaving's Northern Region chief executive Matt Williams said fine weather and high temperatures brought record numbers to the country's beaches over the weekend.
On Saturday alone there was a record head count of 18,646 people at the 22 patrolled beached from the Far North to Raglan, with lifeguards kept busy across 59 rescues, 21 first aid cases - including eight that required St John assistance - and five people were searched for.