A mother and her three children had to swim to safety during Cyclone Gita as slips and floodwaters threatened their home near the Abel Tasman National Park.

The Tasman District was one of seven regions that declared a state of emergency as Cyclone Gita lashed the country, causing flooding, slips and ripping roofs off houses.

Kaiteriteri-Sandy Bay Rd resident Brunna Lee told Stuff that they made it out just in time on Tuesday, with water and debris crashing around their home.

Emergency services were unable to get to them, and at about 4pm Lee and her three children decided to leave.


As vehicles were trapped by the water they had to walk to Marahau nearby.

Neighbour Tim Wraight​ accompanied Lee, the children and their dog across the paddocks toward Marahau.

Lee told Stuff that she went into "full survival mode".

"I've never been so scared in my life," Lee said.

"I completely forgot about the ditch, so I swum through it with a four-year-old in my hands." ​

Lee's husband Liang had been in Whangarei for work and the couple hadn't seen each other for three weeks.

"He was on the phone and he said, 'tell me how bad it is', and I'm like, 'it's bad'."

Lee told Stuff how the couple's children, aged 13, 10 and 4, had been very scared but were "troopers" during the ordeal.

Lee said she thought they made it out just in time, right before a slip came down the hill behind them.

"I'm just so pleased to be alive."

Wraight's bedroom had caved under the force of the slip.

After helping Lee and her children, he returned to rescue his dogs and help another neighbour, but was unable to get back to his home.

That neighbour was evacuated later in the evening by search and rescue personnel using a raft.

"We were running for our lives across the paddock as the slips came down," he told Stuff.

He rescued most of the precious items from his bedroom, apart from a pair of Italian boots.

"I can get another pair. We are all safe and sound and everyone is accounted for and we just have to pick up the pieces."

Wraight stayed with friends in Marahau overnight and said the first clean shirt they gave him was one emblazoned with the words, "up sh*t creek".

"We were soaked to the skin and I thought, that'll do."