Two men were winched to safety last night in awful conditions from an island near Farewell Spit after being trapped by the incoming tide.

The drama unfolded at the remote Wharaiki Beach near the western base of Farewell Spit in Golden Bay.

A search and rescue operation was launched about 3pm after two people became stranded on Archway Island by the incoming tide.

"The pair are believed to be only wearing swimsuits and there are concerns for their welfare," police said in a statement.


"Heavy rain in the area is hampering the rescue effort."

The wind was so severe that a Defence Force helicopter was sent from Ohakea Air Force Base because a rescue was too dangerous for a commercial rescue chopper to attempt.

Surf rescue and specialist LandSar team were also dispatched to the scene as conditions deteriorated and darkness fell.

However a St John Ambulance spokesman confirmed to the Herald about 10.40pm that the pair had been safely rescued.

The two men, still in their togs, were winched off the island by helicopter and transferred to an ambulance at a nearby campground.

Tasman Police Acting Senior Sergeant Malcolm York told Radio New Zealand one man had slight hypothermia.

The pair were both taken to Golden Bay Medical Centre in a moderate condition and later transferred to Nelson Hospital.

A police spokeswoman told media conditions in the area were "atrocious".

Only two weeks ago, a pair of stricken tourists were airlifted to safety after being swept out to sea while swimming at Wharariki Beach.

The Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter was called after other beach-goers noticed unattended belongings being caught in the rising tide.

The French man and Austrian woman were spotted waving and clinging to a rock at the base of a high cliff face and eventually winched onboard the rescue chopper and treated for cuts and hypothermia.