As a post mortem is carried out on the victim of yesterday's fatal shark attack, an eye-witness has spoken of the desperate bid to save the woman's life.
Emergency services rushed to Bowentown Beach just after 5pm yesterday. It is understood the woman was dragged from the water alive and paramedics administered CPR on the beach to no avail.
Matt Lawry from Kaipaki, holidaying at the Bowentown Beach Holiday Park with his family, said after hearing the sirens he went down to the beach to investigate and so did many other campers.
Lawry said he saw the emergency services first responders working on the young woman for at least 15 minutes and initially thought it was some sort of drowning situation. He said when he learned there had been a shark attack he was stunned.
"The irony is that over the past six or seven days there have been untold shark sightings close to shore, but I never imagined one would try to bite anyone," he said.
Lawry said while the emergency services personnel were working on the young woman there was a man of a similar age sitting on a log nearby with his face turned away being comforted by an emergency services member.
"Watching them try to save the young woman without success and seeing the man's white face was a very traumatic, harrowing experience, " he said.
Lawry said after CPR efforts stopped, a man walked about 50 to 70 metres into the sea, and began splashing water over himself.
Meanwhile, a police officer and one of the first responders stood on the water's edge watching him, he said.
"It was harrowing and I can't stop thinking about the extreme grief I saw on his face as he left the beach."
A stream of people have this morning been laying flowers at the scene and paying their respects.
Eastern Waikato Area Commander, Inspector Dean Anderson said in a statement today: "Police would like to acknowledge the young woman who died yesterday evening at Waihi Beach, and her family and friends at this very difficult time.
"We are not in a position to release her personal details but will do so in consultation with her family when appropriate."
He said police were not able to confirm the cause of her death but indications are that she had been injured by a shark.
"A post mortem is scheduled to be carried out today and this will provide us with a clearer understanding of what happened.
"However, the Coroner will ultimately determine the cause of her death.
"We appreciate her death was extremely traumatic for those who were at Waihī Beach yesterday and we are offering Victim Support services to anyone who requires it."
He acknowledged the emergency service responders who went to her aid including the Waihi Beach Surf Life Saving Club members, ambulance and a holidaying GP who provided medical aid, Fire and Emergency NZ, the Waihi Beach Coastguard and our own police staff.
He offered thanks and appreciation to local Iwi from the Otawhiwhi Marae for blessing the area with a karakia and for the compassion and care they showed for the victim and her friends.
Kelvin Whiting from Hamilton and his wife Karen, and his two children were among those leaving bunches of flowers down on the beach near where the young woman was brought to shore.
Whiting said they were staying at their holiday beach in Seaforth Rd.
"It's so sad and tragic. My heart goes out to the young lady's family. I still can't believe it. We had a bach for 32 years and what has happened is so close to home. It's just terribly sad."
Local Graeme Rackham said: "It was a devastating for the young woman's family and the community." Another local man said the community was still reeling from the tragedy. "It's pretty sad. It sort of makes you reflect on who you are and where we are."
Waihi Maori Warden Tapp Cooper said it was "quite shocking" to learn of the fatal shark attack.
"About 1.30pm I was down here with my grandchildren having a nice little swim. It was a bit overcast,and a bit rough, but it was hot and there were others swimming here as well."
Cooper said last night she immediately offered her help and today she and her 14-year-old daughter Quinseha were patrolling the area talking to beach visitors and locals about the rahui and what it means, and also affering any support they can to emergency services responders.
"It's such a tragic event and we want to make sure if people need to talk to someone we are here for them."
An Auckland family staying at Bowentown Beach Holiday Park were also down at the beach swimming about an hour or so earlier. A man in the group, who did not wish to be named, said he and his family were still reeling from news of the attack.
"We have been coming here for over 40 years and I did't believe it at first..I'm a stunned mullet to be honest...I won't be going back into the water again in a hurry."
The man also said that the sea conditions were "pretty churny" yesterday with small rips and lots of debris washed up right to the sand dunes, but swimmers were still out in the surf.
The man's wife said another couple in the holiday park had seen a shark, possibly a bronze whaler, take a big chunk out of a fish they catch while fishing at Anzac Cove yesterday.
Beach initially opens
The beach site of yesterday's fatal shark attack was originally opened today.
Surf Life Saving New Zealand confirmed local council officials had made the decision.
Otawhiwhi Marae instated a rāhui spanning the North End of Waihi Beach down to Bowentown Heads and in harbour to Ongare, Tuapiro & Tanner Point. The rāhui prohibits the collection of shellfish and all fishing and will remain in place for a week from today (ending Jan 15 at 7am).
Maori warden and Otawhiwhi Marae Trust spokesperson Shaan Kingi said the rāhui was put in place this morning which was customary practice when there had been a water tragedy.
He said it this case it was deemed appropriate to keep the rāhui in place for seven days because there had been a lot of blood on the beach and in the water.
Kingi was the area where the young woman was attacked and died was "very tapu" and extra time was needed to allow the blood to be cleared. He said he hoped people would respect the rahui which was in place out of respect for the young woman's family and friends who gathered near the Waihi Beach Coastguard headquarters last night.
Kingi said more than 15 emergency service responders and police responded to the tragedy last night. They gathered together last night near the Coastguard building for karakia (prayers) with kaumatua from the marae to assist with the spiritual healing process.
Chaz Gibbons-Campbell , Surf Lifesaving New Zealand's Eastern Region Lifesaving manager, said while the rahui would remain in force for seven days in relation to the collection and consumption of seafood, swimming between the flags would be allowed in certain areas of along the beach from tomorrow.
He said the decision to allow swimming in flagged areas under the direction of the lifeguards was decided at meeting at the Waihj Beach Surf Club this afternoon attended by local kaumatua, club officials, Bay of Plenty Harbourmaster manager Jon Jon Peters, and Surf Lifesaving NZ and Western Bay of Plenty District Council representatives.
Gibbons-Campbell said signage would be erected by tomorrow to assist the public to know where they can swim safely and he asked people to continue to respect the rahui still in force at the Bowentown end of the beach.
Tadhg Stopford said yesterday he saw a helicopter land at the beach and people attempting CPR on the woman for several minutes.
"Vigorous CPR was being applied, and a troop of responders encircled the victim."
He said after work on the victim had ceased, a man walked into the ocean.
"The man roused himself and marched 100m into the sea," Stopford said.
"His entry into the sea was a challenge, I guess, to the shark who had stolen the life of his loved one. He defiantly waded deep into the sea, and stayed there for several minutes.
"With my children around me, I felt his loss."
Shark expert: Great white sharks in the area
Shark scientist Riley Elliott says it's hard to speculate what species of shark attacked the woman without all the facts.
However, there has been evidence of juvenile and immature great whites in the area as of last summer.
Elliott says bronze whalers are more common in the area than great whites but they haven't attacked a human in a very long time.
"It's very uncommon to have shark attacks in New Zealand - in the world in general, especially fatal ones," he said.
"Shark attacks are incredibly rare and if you see one, remain calm, alert people around you, and calmly vacate the water."
Elliott's thoughts were also with the family and friends of the woman, describing her death as "tragic".