"It was only a matter of time before the tide took them out."

A father and his teenage daughter are lucky to be alive after they found themselves stuck on a slippery cliff face in Whanganui as they tried to avoid the crashing waves.

It is only thanks to a daring rescue attempt by a pair of Whanganui Surf Life Saving Club members that the two swimmers survived the ordeal at Kai Iwi Beach.

On February 18, Police asked the Whanganui Surf Life Saving Club to send a search team to the beach due to fears the pair had been swept out to sea.

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Instead the pair were found perched precariously three metres up on a slippery cliff-face, trying to avoid the crashing waves.

Surf lifesavers Laura O'Keeffe and Alex Forlong came to their aid in an Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB).

Forlong attempted to swim towards them but the surf pushed her into the rocks, injuring her hand.

An attempt was then made to winch the swimmers to safety from a helicopter, but it was too risky in the weather conditions.

National Lifesaving Manager Allan Mundy said the two were in real peril.

"It was only a matter of time before the tide took them out."

A decision was made to attempt the rescue on the IRB, battling an immense swell to get close enough to help the pair down.

"I have been driving IRBs for 30 odd years and when I looked at what they had done, I said to myself, 'could I have done that?'

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"I would have given it a crack but could I have?"

The pair were successfully rescued and checked for hypothermia.

Their bravery and skill was recognised at today's 2018 NZ Search and Rescue Awards where they were given a Gold Award.

Lifeguards Phoebe Havill and Callum Fulton were also among those recognised for their work.

They were both teenagers when they pulled off a similarly daring rescue.

The owner of a Whangamata kayak company told Havill that three rental kayaks had not returned from an outing on November 20 last year.

Havill alongside Fulton, Andrew Earl-Peacock and Andrew Hodgson launched IRBs towards Whenuakura Island, which is accessed through a narrow archway where water charges through in large swells.

Callum Fulton in an IRB. Photo / Supplied
Callum Fulton in an IRB. Photo / Supplied

National Lifesaving Manager Allan Mundy said it was too dangerous to approach using the IRBs.

"When there is a swell running, the waves break right into that island," he said.

"There is really nowhere to hide."

Both teenagers swam towards a side exit wearing helmets and fins.

They weaved around submerged rocks and fought strong currents to reach the stranded trio.

"When a wave comes through it is highly aerated water so you don't have much buoyancy," Mundy said.

"You have to really fight to keep your head above water."

It was a "ballsy rescue" not only because of the challenging conditions but because they had to coax the patient back out the same way.

But the conditions quickly deteriorated and the side exit option was no longer an option,
Undeterred Havill and Fulton decided an attempt would have to be made through the main channel.

The lifeguards secured the kayakers in rescue tubes and towed them through the surges out to the waiting IRBs.

The trio were returned to shore, assessed and left the beach requiring no further treatment.

If they three had stayed longer they would have lost their footing, Mundy said.

"They certainly saved lives."

The full list of awards can be read below.

Gold award

Whanganui Surf Life Saving Club for the rescue of two stranded swimmers from
Kai Iwi Beach in Whanganui on February 18 last year.

Blake McDavitt from the Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation for his service and commitment to search and rescue.

Certificate of achievement

LandSAR Methven, Otago Rescue Helicopter and South Canterbury Police SAR Squad for the rescue of an injured walker from Little Mt Peel/Huatekerekere, on June 3 last year.

Coastguard Auckland for the rescue of an injured yachtsman near Waiheke Island on March 3 last year.

LandSAR Wanaka, Southern Lakes Helicopters, Aspiring Helicopters, Wanaka Police SAR squad and Aoraki/Mt Cook Alpine Rescue Team for the rescue of a climber from the Bonar Glacier on Mt Aspiring between July 31 – August 3 last year.

LandSAR Wanaka, Southern Lakes Helicopters, Aspiring Helicopters, Wanaka Police SAR squad and Aoraki/Mt Cook Alpine Rescue Team received a Certificate of achievement for the rescue of a climber from the Bonar Glacier on Mt Aspiring between July 31 and August 3 last year.
LandSAR Wanaka, Southern Lakes Helicopters, Aspiring Helicopters, Wanaka Police SAR squad and Aoraki/Mt Cook Alpine Rescue Team received a Certificate of achievement for the rescue of a climber from the Bonar Glacier on Mt Aspiring between July 31 and August 3 last year.

Phoebe Havill, Callum Fulton, Andrew Earl-Peacock and Andrew Hodgson of the Whangamata Surf Life Saving Club for the rescue of three stranded kayakers from
Whenuakura Island, in Whangamata, on November 20 last year.

Rodney Bracefield from Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand for his service to search and rescue in New Zealand.

Adam Fraser from Surf Life Saving New Zealand Taranaki for his service to Surf Life Saving and search and rescue.

Jo Norgrove from Coastguard Auckland for her service to Coastguard and search
and rescue.

Coastguard New Zealand for the Old4New Coastguard Lifejacket Upgrade campaign.

Special award

Cospas-Sarsat Secretariat for an important contribution to international search
and rescue, and for ensuring the provision of the global Cospas-Sarsat distress system.

Terry Blumhardt, Sarah Cate, Cliff Jones from LandSAR Turangi for an important contribution to search and rescue in the New Zealand Search and Rescue Region – the rescue of two boys from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on October 19 2016.