A car careened 6 metres down a bank and ended up almost fully submerged in a creek in Manaia, near Coromandel Town this morning.
The driver, in his 30s, had been partially trapped and was dragged from the car by bystanders in the small community after only 15cm of the car remained above the water.
Coromandel Town chief fire officer John Walker said the local man, in his 30s, was "bloody lucky".
"The vehicle only had about 6 inches of air at the top of it. It was totally submerged barring the 6 inches."
"He would have had to stretch his neck to get into the air space I would think. He was lucky."
Walker said the man had driven out of his driveway, straight across a gravel road near the marae and directly down a bank landing in the Manaia River. The river was full because it was high tide.
The car had not flipped and was upright when it stopped.
Emergency services were called to the job at 10.12am and the man was taken to Thames Hospital by ambulance in a serious condition.
Fire crew helped move him from a paddock where residents had dragged him to.
A police media spokesperson said a person called 111 at 10.12am saying the car was sinking.