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"Within the blink of an eye" a moment's inattention claimed the lives of four Northlanders in a head-on crash, a coroner's court has heard.

Kerikeri coroner Allan McLeod was holding an inquest into the deaths on State Highway 10, 1.5km north of Waipapa on September 12.

He found that Henare Matene, 30, his partner, Toni Porter, 31, and their 1-year-old baby daughter, Hokianga Matene - who had been unrestrained on her mother's lap - died from injuries sustained in the crash.

The couple's three other children in the backseat were seriously injured.

Mr Matene had been driving a southbound car with Ms Porter and the baby in the front seat.

Mr McLeod found that the driver of a northbound car, Maaka Taurua, 17, from Ohaeawai, also died from injuries sustained in the crash.

Mr Taurua's mother, front-seat passenger Piki Taurua, was seriously injured, as was a cousin, Hohaia Mitchell, 16, who had been sitting unrestrained in the back seat.

Both - still in wheelchairs - gave evidence at the hearing.

Mr McLeod found that Mr Matene's car had crossed into the path of the northbound vehicle.

"What happened is more than likely to have been a short period of inattention, but sufficient to bring the car into the opposing lane."

Lovenia Matene, Mr Matene's sister, said she had been with her brother's family that weekend, collecting seafood for his impending wedding to Ms Porter.

The family had arrived at Whatuwhiwhi, 41km northeast of Kaitaia, about 11 the night before and Mr Matene had gone out fishing from midnight until about 3am, then again from 6.30am until midday.

He had been able to get only about an hour's sleep as baby Hokianga had been grizzly and unsettled overnight, she said.

Mr McLeod said that sequence of events, plus evidence that Mr Matene had started a new job at a timbermill and had been working very hard, "in some ways was a recipe for problems" when it came to maintaining attention while driving.

Kaumatua Ken Morunga, Mr Matene's uncle, said it seemed that "within the blink of an eye it was all over".

Amid tears, he apologised on behalf of his nephew to Mr Taurua's family, hoping they would "accept our apologies and aroha".

Mr Taurua's father, Stephen Taurua, thanked everybody for attending the hearing and said it helped the healing process.

"We can't bring them back. We are the living and we must live together."

- NZPA