A dramatic rescue of children off Lake Rotorua has sparked long-term holidaymakers to speak out about the unpredictable nature of the lake and the need for holiday home owners to better warn their guests. Journalist Kelly Makiha reports.
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It looks flat, beautiful and peaceful - but Lake Rotorua can be deadly and long-term holidaymakers Roger Laybourn and Paul Bishop can't stay silent any more.
Two children aged about 8 and 12 were the latest to be saved off the shores of Lake Rotorua at Ngongotahā and they're alive thanks to a fluke that saw Laybourn out on the water when they got into trouble.
Laybourn, from Hamilton, who has a holiday home at Ngongotahā, is a reluctant hero. He didn't want to make a fuss of what he did but the exact same thing nearly happened the following day with different children.
On the second occasion, Laybourn was about to head out again but another boatie happened to be in the area came to the rescue.
His neighbour Paul Bishop has also lost count of the mishaps and calls for help he's been involved with over the 30 years he's holidayed in the area.
Laybourn and Bishop are now speaking out because they fear it's only time before someone dies.
They say the owners of private holiday homes and Airbnbs near the lake should be made to have signs and information warning visitors about the unpredictable nature of Lake Rotorua.
Laybourn said the lake was shallow for about 150m but then suddenly dropped off. He said when there was a prevailing wind, it made it very difficult to paddle back.
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"On little kayaks and inflatables like Lilos, it's just deadly."
Bishop said the short chop of waves made it even harder to navigate.
Both said new visitors, in particular, got lulled into a false sense of security due to the picturesque look and didn't realise they needed to be extra careful.
Laybourn said Saturday's rescue of the two children kept replaying in his mind. It was about 2pm and he noticed four children in two kayaks splashing around the lake.
Laybourn had decided to take his larger kayak out on the water for "a little cruise". He noticed the children were getting further out so decided to paddle to them to warn them about the sudden drop-off.
There was an offshore wind so he advised they should come in. One said he was getting cold in the water so he got on to Laybourn's kayak and he paddled him back in, followed by another boy in one of the kayaks.
He thought the other two were coming in with him but they hadn't followed. After dropping off the first two, he noticed the other two had gone further out, about 150m to 200m out.
"Just as I got back out to them one (aged about 12) was hanging on to the side and the younger girl (about 8) was inside. The boy was panicking a bit and was grabbing the back and it tipped the little girl out. Then it started sinking."
Laybourn said the girl had her life jacket on properly but the boy didn't and although it stayed on, it went straight over his head making him panic more.
"The boy seemed to be going under."
He managed to get the boy on to his kayak while the girl held on to the side. Battling the wind, they managed to make it to shore safely.
"I was a bit buggered by the time I got in."
Laybourn said his family had enjoyed 12 years holidaying at the spot but he admitted they were constantly monitoring the lake, wondering who they would save next.
"There should be an obligation on Airbnbs. I can't sit here any longer and see this happen and say nothing ... I woke up the other night and it was flashing through my head again and I thought 'what if I had missed them?'," he said.
They said parents also needed to supervise their children better.
Bishop said it was a combination of not knowing the local conditions and being complacent.
"Education should come with the property," Bishop said.
Coastguard Rotorua immediate past president Richard Packham said Lake Rotorua's calm appearance always fooled people.
"It looks beautiful from the edge because the hills around it make it look flat and shelter the bays but the wind picks up once you get further out."
He said kayakers were also often unaware how far away Mokoia Island was.
He estimated Coastguard picked up about 15 to 20 people a year from Lake Rotorua alone.
"The lake catches out a lot of people who get into trouble and that's just the ones we get. Most of the time commercial operators or recreational users are there on the spot and do the rescues without us even knowing."
An Airbnb spokesperson said the safety of guests and hosts was its top priority and it provided a variety of resources to ensure both had access to up-to-date safety information and advice, including in relation to water safety.
"Our online Neighbourhood Support Page also allows community members to flag
with us any concerns they may have regarding the safety or other matters. We encourage anyone who wants to raise a safety-related issue to do so via this portal so our team can look into it."
He said Airbnb also urged all hosts to ensure their "House Rules" were up to date and that they flagged any potential safety issues with guests to ensure their stay was a safe one.