The sight of a yellow-bellied sea snake gave a tourist walking along the beach at Tokomaru Bay, on the East Coast north of Gisborne, quite a fright this week.

It also came as a big surprise to Te Puka Tavern head chef Lily Hayward.

"We had visitors and they had taken their dog for a walk along the beach,"
she told The Gisborne Herald.

"He returned quite quickly and asked us if we had snakes in New Zealand because he had just seen one on the beach.


"I told him he had to be wrong. In Toko we have eels but no snakes. So we all went back to look for it. It took us three-quarters of an hour to find the spot. It was still there . . . and alive."

Department of Conservation ranger Jamie Quirk said the sighting was a rare occurrence.

"It is not normal but not impossible. The water temperatures are still really warm and every 15 to 20 years we get sea snakes washing up on our shores.

"They are usually at Te Araroa and the East Cape. We have not seen them much closer than that," Mr Quirk said. "Definitely leave them alone. Their bite is extremely poisonous."

The Ministry of Primary Industries was called and identified the snake as a yellow-bellied sea snake. It reiterated they were venomous and should be left alone.

The snake disappeared with the high tide.