Waimarama Beach was "eerily" quiet this morning, with only small numbers of beachgoers walking near the area where a man drowned in the surf yesterday evening.

This morning a rahui was in place on about a 100m stretch of the beach from Moori road to the IRB ramp at the north end of the surf lifeguard tower where the man died, and one visitor described the scene as "eerie" and "sad".

She and several others throughout the morning took a moment to reflect on yesterday's events at the site of the rahui, and speculate on the treacherous power of the sea that could claim lives within moments.

Read more: Drowned man's last actions at Waimarama were to save his wife
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Waimarama Store owner Luke Shadbolt said he had been visiting the beach for the last 20 to 30 years, and was also an experienced lifeguard.

He said the beach was generally safe but still had to be respected.

"People continue to underestimate how the currents and rips change with the tides.

"Both experienced and inexperienced swimmers should be swimming between the flags in patrolled hours."

He said inexperienced swimmers often thought flat patches of the sea were safe to swim in, which was not the case.

"It's a surf beach and every time the tide changes the current changes - if you are inexperienced and in water over your waist, the potential to get into trouble is significant as you lose your ability to stand up and get out of trouble.

"People have to wake up and start treating beaches, and lakes and rivers, with respect."

To his knowledge, no one had drowned at Waimarama Beach for close to 10 years, when an international visitor was washed off the Kuku rocks, he said.

This morning, visitors to the store were asking who the person who died was and what had happened, but this information was not yet available.

It was reported the man who died was an international visitor, and was among three swimmers who got into difficulty in the water.

The two others were transported to Hawke's Bay Hospital in a moderate condition. A woman in her 20s remained in a serious condition in the intensive care unit.

This morning the patrol area was set up just south of the Waimarama Surf Lifesaving Club and the sea conditions described as having strong rips, which people were advised to beware of.

The rahui would be in place until 7pm on Tuesday.