Seeing his newborn baby girl is what surfer Ben Searancke is thankful for after a harrowing experience in which he was seriously injured, alone and trapped on a remote West Auckland beach.
Searancke had been surfing at Karekare Beach alone on Wednesday when he lost his board and was swept into rocks by large waves, before being washed ashore at Mercer Bay to the north.
He tried for two hours to walk out of the bay, separated from Karekare and further north Piha by steep cliffs, attempting to scale steep bush tracks. But he was unable to.
Desperate and with a deep gash in his leg, he wrote the word "help" in the sand at Mercer Bay, hoping someone would see it.
And somebody did.
Karekare locals Vanessa Ingraham, 36, and her friend Dace Kalnina, 32, who were hiking on a coastal track at the time, raised the alarm and Searancke was soon being picked up by surf lifesavers from the United North Piha Surf Club and taken to hospital.
Searancke was not up to a full interview when approached by the Herald on Thursday, but took the time to thank his rescuers.
"I've just been through a harrowing experience, and my wife and I just had a newborn baby - 5 days old - so waking up this morning I was feeling very thankful and lucky to be alive.
"Thank you to the emergency response team, the staff at the hospital, but most importantly the Surf Life Saving Club, who found me and picked me up.
"It just goes to show how important their services and that organisation is. If not for them I might not be here today."
Ingraham and Kalnina, unaware Searancke was in dire straits, paused to take in the view from their vantage point.
"We stopped and then we see this man trying to write with his leg something in the sand," said Kalnina.
"We wondered if he was being friendly and he started writing H, E, and we figured he was going to write a nice message of hello," said Ingraham.
"Luckily we stuck around. The L became a P. At that point he finished writing and he collapsed onto the sand."
Kalnina said they initially wondered if it was a prank, but it took just a couple of seconds to realise the man was in trouble and they needed to act.
"We shouted at him but because we were so high up and it was windy we couldn't really understand what anybody was shouting back but he did see us and he was waving back.
"He waved at us back while he lay down on the sand so that's when we realised it was serious."
They called the surf club to come to the man's aid and sent the dramatic photo taken high above the remote bay, showing the man prone on the sand near the single-word message.
"They reacted immediately. They kept calling me back for an update so we stuck around for 20 minutes just to see what happened."
She said at one point Searancke managed to stand up and walk around but had a severe limp. They later discovered he had suffered a bad gash to his leg during his tumultuous ordeal in the heavy surf.
Ingraham said the pair were concerned lifeguards would have trouble spotting the man from the sea.
"It was really rough. We watched the jetski come in and there was a big surf break. They took a little while looking for him before they took the risk themselves of coming in to the beach," said Kalnina.
The women later saw him sandwiched between lifeguards on the rescue craft, leaving the bay and heading to Piha for medical attention.
The women said they were pleased their outing had meant they could help, though they insisted their role was very much behind the scenes.
Said Ingraham: "I think we were just lucky to be in the right place at the right time."
"We're glad he's safe," said Kalnina.
The friends said learning the man's wife had phoned police concerned he hadn't returned from his surfing trip gave them a great feeling they had done the right thing.
"I think taking that situation seriously and reporting it, even it was a prank, raises awareness in the community of looking out for each other, especially in such an isolated place where we live," said Kalnina.
"I was feeling a bit guilty I wasn't helping clients when I went for a hike. The universe gave us another opportunity to help," said Ingraham.
Last night search and rescue supervisor John-Michael Swannix said Searancke was very lucky.
"The message in the sand is not visible from the walking tracks at the northern end of Mercer Bay, so it was very lucky the informant and her friend were at the southern end and able to see it.
"With Auckland in alert level 3, not as many people are out and about at the moment so it's also lucky someone was walking the track at that time."