A woman who was swept away in her kayak last night off Great Barrier Island had to "hunker down" for a night on a nearby island before swimming back this morning to raise the alarm.

A police spokesperson told the Herald the unnamed tourist had spent a rough night stranded cold and wet on the rocky outcrop northwest of Great Barrier.

"It appears the kayaker set out from Karaka Bay last night but became separated from her kayak and swum to a nearby island, where she camped for the night."

This morning the woman was able to swim safely to shore, returning to the area where she had originally departed from, and raising the alarm.

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Maritime Police confirmed the search was called off when the woman arrived unharmed but shaken at Karaka Bay about midday today.

Auckland Police Maritime Unit Sergeant Garry Larsen said police were still conducting the search when she turned up.

"She lost her kayak and managed to hunker down overnight, then she eventually made her way back while the search was being conducted," he said.

The woman was reported missing at 8.55pm last night after friends reported she hadn't returned from a kayaking trip in Port Abercrombie, in the northwest of the island.

The woman's green kayak was spotted by Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter staff about 11.30pm, with the victim's red rain jacket visible on the bow of the watercraft.

Co-pilot Simon Owen said that the fact the kayak was perpendicular to the coast gave rescuers the impression it had been pulled up onto the rocks, rather than being swept up by waves.

"We located [the kayak] and hovered there and did a thorough search of the bay with our searchlights to make sure she hadn't washed up ashore," he said.

However rescue chopper crew could not locate the woman and returned to the mainland about 1am to refuel, with the search then planned to continue this morning.

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Despite the "gnarly" conditions, the crew remained hopeful last night that the woman had made it ashore and found shelter.

"It seemed too convenient that [the kayak] was facing that direction, with the bow toward the bay and it was perpendicular to the coast," Owen said.

"That gave us a bit of hope that the search wasn't over until we found her."

It's the understood the woman had been staying at a camp on Great Barrier Island.