The grandparents of two young children who were involved in a near-drowning at Auckland's Cornwallis Beach have paid tribute to the French firefighter instrumental in saving their lives.

Greg and Anju Davis, of West Harbour, say their family will be eternally grateful for the quick actions of Marie Duvivier, a 29-year-old from Bretagne in Western France on Saturday afternoon as she battled a strong outgoing tide to save their struggling grandchildren.

However, it may be some time before the children, Steven, 9, and Jessica, 4 1/2, go back to the beach, Greg Davis says, as the pair remain mentally scarred from their near death experience.

Davis said his two, and only, grandchildren were spending the school holidays with other relatives who on Saturday afternoon went to Cornwallis beach.

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Their uncle was nearby and fishing off the wharf, when Duvivier - who had just finished a hike in the area - thought she would check out the view.

Davis said his two grandchildren began chatting with her before Steven decided to do a "bomb" off the side.

However, Jessica then decided to copy her brother and also jumped off.

Steven Davis, 9, and younger sister, Jessica, 4 1/2, have physically recovered from their ordeal, but the emotional strain remains. Photo / Supplied
Steven Davis, 9, and younger sister, Jessica, 4 1/2, have physically recovered from their ordeal, but the emotional strain remains. Photo / Supplied

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He said Duvivier kept an eye on the pair and noticed their uncle begin to look panicked as they were quickly swept out to sea.

Talking to the Herald on Wednesday, Duvivier said she could tell Jessica was in trouble so immediately dived in and began swimming after them.

Marie Duvivier, is assisted from the water by residents and family of the children. Photo / John Glen
Marie Duvivier, is assisted from the water by residents and family of the children. Photo / John Glen

She was surprised at how strong the outgoing tide was.

By the time she reached Jessica, the pre-schooler was barely keeping her head above water but had turned blue.

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"When I arrived she was sinking and she couldn't breathe so I did something to wake her up in the water because she was blue."

Duvivier, who has been in New Zealand since September for a year's sabbatical from her firefighting job, said she managed to tilt Jessica's head enough so that she was able to spit out some of the water she'd swallowed.

Bravo Marie and all the best for the Auckland Marathon! 👏 🇫🇷 : Une touriste française qui participera au Auckland...

Posted by France in New Zealand - Ambassade de France à Wellington on Monday, 7 October 2019

"Then I reached the lifeguard ring and I swam towards the boy and he was struggling but he managed to reach me as well."

The Davis' got to speak to Duvivier and personally thank her for her heroics on Thursday, without which they said their grandchildren wouldn't have survived.

Marie Duvivier, right, helps locals and relatives of the two stricken children get to safety on the shoreline late on Saturday evening. Photo / John Glen
Marie Duvivier, right, helps locals and relatives of the two stricken children get to safety on the shoreline late on Saturday evening. Photo / John Glen

"It's such a courageous thing that she did, so selfless on her part," Davis said. "We just thank God that she was in the right place at the right time otherwise we wouldn't have grandchildren.

"We're hoping in the near future to organise a catch up with them now that they're back to full health."

Cornwallis local John Glen agreed, earlier telling the Herald, "if this French woman wasn't there, they would have been a goner", while others have labelled her "brave" and showing "great cool headedness".

Davis said he didn't know anything of the emergency until he got a call from his Dargaville-based son saying they were okay and were off to Starship Hospital.

Steven was discharged about 11pm, after suffering mild hypothermia, but Jessica was kept in longer as she had swallowed so much water.

Both kids were now "pretty good" although now when she had a shower or bath, Jessica would freak out if the water touched her face.

Marie Duvivier, a firefighter in New Zealand on a year's sabbatical from France, helped save the lives of the two young children. Photo / John Glen
Marie Duvivier, a firefighter in New Zealand on a year's sabbatical from France, helped save the lives of the two young children. Photo / John Glen

"That's understandable at this stage and that could take a while before that goes. It's just patience and understanding with that one will help.

"They both said that they're never going to swim at a beach again. Steven said 'the swimming pool will be okay, but I don't think we'll go to a beach again'.

"As time goes on that could change."

The pair got to help celebrate their Mum's birthday on Thursday surrounded by many family members.

"[Marie] was asking how they were and I told her they were back up at the farm in Dargaville. It was their Mum's birthday [Thursday] so they spent the day with family."

He said the incident had been a solemn reminder for everyone about how quickly kids can move.

Visiting French firefighter Marie Duvivier, middle in black, helps locals and family of the two children after they were rescued from the sea. Photo / John Glen
Visiting French firefighter Marie Duvivier, middle in black, helps locals and family of the two children after they were rescued from the sea. Photo / John Glen

"[Jessica] just jumped in and tried to a bomb like her brother. She's always on the go as well.

"Everyone's realised now how quickly they can move and how much you've got to watch what they are doing. They're so quick at doing things. You see them standing there and the next thing they're doing something."

He said it was fortunate Duvivier was on hand as none of the family members at the scene could swim.

He also paid tribute to the locals at Cornwallis, a small coastal settlement on the northern side of the Manukau Harbour, involved in the rescue who provided hot drinks and a warm shower, while another woman rowed out in the boat to pick up the children and bring them to shore.

"It sounds like the locals were great to them too, they got blankets and hot drinks for them all... they lady in the boat, who rowed out to them all, whoever she is, she was great too helping out like that. That helped get them to the shore a lot quicker."

As for being lauded for her brave actions, Duvivier downplayed them but thanked the Cornwallis locals for their thoughts.

"Oh that's alright, thank you," she said.

Davis said she remained humble when they spoke on Thursday night.

"It's such a wonderful thing she did. It was great to be able to thank her."