The mother of an autistic boy who sparked a huge search when he went missing today has thanked the searchers who braved the rain to look for him.

Nathan Daniel Callaghan, 10, was found shortly after 8.30pm - almost four hours after he left his Waikanae home, wearing only his boxer shorts.

A police spokeswoman said Nathan - who police said had a mental age of a 2 or 3-year-old - had been found hiding in a house opposite his Waikanae home.

Nathan's mother Kathryn told Fairfax she was grateful to the "wonderful, kind people" who helped with the search.


"It's a terrible feeling when you ring the police and then time goes by and they say they have to get search and rescue. It's levels of panic," she said.

"We now just have to make out house resemble Fort Knox even more than it does now."

Lucy Cameron, a teacher at the nearby Waikanae Primary School, was one of dozens of locals who braved the constant drizzle to join in with the search.

"I decided to go down to the school and open up the staff room so there was somewhere people could go and get a hot drink if they needed one, and searched all the little areas that kids like to hide in the school."

Nathan used to go to the school but now goes to a special needs school.

"Everyone was out with torches, cellphone lights, head lamps - there were people everywhere searching and looking. It was an awesome community efforts with everyone trying to help."

Some police officers were in the staff room when they got the message that Nathan had been found.

"It was just awesome. I can't imagine what it would have been like for his family. You know how bad it is when you lose sight of your own child at the supermarket."

Earlier, police dog handlers, recruits and Waikanae locals joined specialist search and rescue teams during the frantic search.

The search team converged on the Kapiti Coast after Nathan was reported missing about 4.45pm from his home.

Those looking for Nathan were monitoring waterways, including the nearby Waikanae River.

"He is known to try car doors and climb and he likes to play near water, especially the beach," an initial police statement said.

Locals living within a 200m radius of the the intersection of Elizabeth St and Winara Ave were also asked to their properties, sheds, garages and cars for any signs of Nathan.

Police said they were using "every available resource" in their hunt for the missing boy.

Before Nathan was found, a Winara Ave resident said police had visited his and neighbouring properties and asked them to check for any signs of the boy.

He said many neighbours were out with flashlights searching for the boy and calling his name.

"There's a lot of interest, a lot of people are working hard and calling out," the resident said.

"They're suggesting to check waterways and things because he's keen on water apparently."

He said Nathan was a "nice kid" who could often be seen jumping on the trampoline at his family home.