A man who drowned at Bethells Beach is being hailed a hero for saving the lives of two others after a rogue wave swept them out to sea.
Pesamino Tovio, 34, known as Mino to his family, was at the beach last Thursday when his partner and their friend's 10-year-old son were caught by a wave, his father Ben Pesamino Tevasa Tovio said.
"In my heart, he is a hero because he saved someone's son that is not his own. But he took his life to save that boy," Tovio said.
The family members, who have been camping at the beach since Mino was swept out to sea, were also involved in a separate rescue on Tuesday evening when three people got into difficulties in the water.
Of the day Mino died, Tovio said his son was at the beach for a walk with his partner and the boy on Thursday evening when they were caught by a wave.
"My son Mino jumped in to help them, and then he pushed the girl [his partner] to the sand and then he went right back to the boy," Tovio said.
"He took the boy almost 50 metres to the shore, and the last thing he done is to save that boy, but he ran out of energy.
"The boy and his partner were yelling out for help, but when they turned around he's not there anymore."
A two-hour search involving 10 lifeguards in two IRBs that evening failed to find Mino, a concrete truck driver.
His body had still not been found, and the search was ongoing.
Tovio said it was in Mino's nature to "do anything for anybody" and he always thought of others before himself.
"That's why he has a lot of friends because he always helped others, it doesn't matter who or what, he is always willing to help anybody," Tovio said.
Mino was born in Taupo, but the family were originally from the Tokelau Islands. Tovio said family and friends were still in shock.
"We never expected that we would lose him in this way. We are very sad," Tovio said.
"But our families have come to respect his decision, which was to jump in and help the boy. Even though it hurts, because he never said goodbye...but we got to respect his decision to save the boy."
Mino has two children Aaliyah Oferia, who will be turning 17 on Sunday, and a 16-year-old son Filipo Pesamino.
"I love him, he's my son, and I'm gonna stay here at the beach until I get his body back," Tovio added.
Mother of Mino's children, Roxanne Whitehouse-Opetaia, 32, said she and the children were struggling to accept the loss.
"We're extremely sad and shocked, and cannot believe he's gone," she said.
"He's a wonderful dad and a role model for the kids...we were in Australia when we got the call saying he's drowned and we just couldn't believe it."
Whitehouse-Opetaia is calling for more warning notices to be put up at the beach after she herself got involved with a separate rescue on Tuesday.
"We were cooking our dinner, when a man ran to us and said help, help, someone's drowning" she said.
Surf Life Saving New Zealand northern operations manager Alan Gibson said Mino's family members grabbed some rescue boards from the unoccupied surf club and rushed down to the beach with them.
Two bystanders grabbed the boards off them and took them into the sea.
Gibson said those bystanders themselves also got into trouble. Fortunately an off-duty surf lifesaver was nearby and ended up rescuing all three people.
"We feel if the lifeguard was not there three people probably would not have returned. And if the family was not there, one person definitely would have been lost.
"They have lost their loved one but, in assisting in saving three people, something good has come out of an awful situation."
Surf lifesavers were pleading for beach-goers to be more careful after five near-drownings in three days in the dangerous west coast rip.
On Sunday two women swimming at the main beach were caught in the rip and had to be rescued by a surfer.
"We could have had six drownings there in five days," Gibson said.
He said weekday patrols had ended meaning the only patrol times at Bethells were over the weekend.
"Our advice is not to swim at unpatrolled beaches. If in doubt, stay out."
Gibson said west coast beaches were notoriously dangerous, with strong side currents running parallel to the beach and rip currents running out to sea.
"My suggestion is if you don't know these beaches they can be very dangerous. You are not going to be stronger than a rip."
Beach safety messages
• Choose a lifeguarded beach, swim between the flags and never swim or surf alone.
• Don't overestimate your ability, keep young children within arm's reach at all times and what out for rip currents.
• When fishing from rocks, always wear a lifejacket.
• If in doubt, stay out.