A joint funeral is underway for a couple who left Burma as refugees for the safety of New Zealand, only to drown tragically at Auckland's Muriwai Beach.

Kay Dah Ukay, 48, and his wife Mu Thu Pa, 50, were fishing on the rocks with their three youngest children aged 13, 9 and 7 when tragedy struck on Monday.

The couple had nine children aged 7 to 29 and a 3-year-old grandchild.

The couple's children pay tribute to their parents at the service. Photo / Jason Oxenham
The couple's children pay tribute to their parents at the service. Photo / Jason Oxenham

About 250 people are attending the funeral in Henderson this afternoon.

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The service began with Buddhist prayers and chanting led by a monk from the Ratanadipa temple.

Two of the couple's children spoke, through tears, on behalf of the family.

They thanked the community for the support they had received and expressed how much they would miss their parents.

The family are from the Karen ethnic group and the service was conducted in English, Burmese and Karen.

Cicilia Dwe, of the New Zealand Karen Association, described the couple.

"I remember them as a happy and talkative couple," she said.

Ukay was "the life of the party at community events".

Both of them had been brought up with traditional values and beliefs and they liked to give advice about the skills and knowledge they had learned.

"The children are now learning to act on what they taught them.

"This week has been a real roller coaster ride."

The service ended with the children and many others filing past the couple's coffins, which were open.

The couple are to be buried later this afternoon at Waikumete Cemetery.

They were former refugees from Burma. They fled their homeland and its army in the late-1990s for Thailand with their older children. They were resettled in New Zealand in 2008.

The funeral for Mu Thu Pa and Kay Dah Ukay at Morrison Funerals in Henderson. Photo / Jason Oxenham
The funeral for Mu Thu Pa and Kay Dah Ukay at Morrison Funerals in Henderson. Photo / Jason Oxenham

An older daughter Dah Htoo Ukay, 25, has said her father slipped on the wet rocks as he tried to haul in a fish.

"When they went fishing they got a big fish and tried to take it out," she said.

The funeral programme for the couple.
The funeral programme for the couple.

"He was slipping on the rock and fell in the water.

"My mother also tried to hold the rod. My younger sister tried to grab my mother, but she fell in the water too."

Kay Dah Ukay and his wife Mu Thu Pa, far left, with their nine children and one grandchild. Photo / Supplied
Kay Dah Ukay and his wife Mu Thu Pa, far left, with their nine children and one grandchild. Photo / Supplied

Jay Ukay, 9, said the three siblings called for help.

"There was this old man standing on the deck [behind the rocks]. He called 111."

The alarm was raised about 2pm.

Jay said both an ambulance and a helicopter arrived quickly. Police as well as members of the Muriwai Volunteer Lifeguard Service were found their mother's body first.

"They said she was still breathing a little bit but after half an hour she was gone. But my father, he was already passed away," he said.

The couple's nine children gathered at Muriwai Beach on Tuesday to bless the site.

About 40 people attended the service, including wider family, members of the Auckland Burmese community, tangata whenua, Muriwai lifeguards, police and community members, for a karakia and to bless the couple.