Four Queenstown men are lucky to be alive after their kayaks overturned and they were swept out to sea off the Otago coast.

Plasterer Oliver Day said he and friends Sam Fraser, Conor Barnes and Leigh Dickson were enjoying the weekend at Waitati when tragedy nearly struck on Saturday night.

The men were fishing in the Blueskin Bay estuary about 6pm when the ebbing tide dragged them out.

"It spiralled out of control," Day said. "We got dragged out and got flipped out of the kayaks."


Day swam against the current and after an hour was able to catch the incoming waves to the beach, where he found a campervan and raised the alarm using the occupants' cellphone.

"As I was running in I thought 'I have to get these guys help' because it was getting dark and with the cold the body starts shutting down.

"I was knackered swimming but I thought 'I have to just keep on going, keep on going'," he said.

"One of the boys said it was his last breath when he got pulled in. He was saying 'if I die say goodbye to my mum'."

Barnes said he was still exhausted and shaken by the experience yesterday. "I consciously made the decision not to drown but to freeze to death. I can't believe I'm alive."

Another of the men had swum in to raise the alarm, not realising he had suffered a broken leg.

Dunedin search and rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Nathan White said the men were "very lucky" to survive.

The water temperature was about 10C, they were swept 200m offshore and cloud cover prevented a helicopter from joining the rescue bid.

"Of the four, only three had lifejackets and two wetsuits," he said.

The third man made it ashore as emergency services arrived at the scene and the fourth came ashore shortly after 8pm, he said.

Day conceded the group were unprepared for what they faced as they were used to Lake Wakatipu's more placid conditions.

"Next time I will be going out with flares and everything. And probably on a boat," he said.

The group felt very blessed and even managed to retrieve the kayaks yesterday.