Anna Barnett is more concerned about the people left behind than dwelling on how close she may have come to death in the Boxing Day tsunami that devastated parts of southern Asia.

The 22-year-old and her partner Brett Rigby were caught in the disaster while holidaying in Thailand.

While they are relieved to be back in Rotorua they were reluctant to return to New Zealand, having seen first-hand the destruction the tidal waves caused. The couple wanted to stay and help with the clean-up but because of Miss Barnett's injuries, were forced to return home.

The former John Paul College student is recovering from an eye infection and infected wounds to her legs and back.

Miss Barnett, who is now a law student at Victoria University, and Mr Rigby, were holidaying at the Thai beach resort Koh Lanta when the tsunami struck.

Mr Rigby had gone on a deep sea fishing trip, leaving Miss Barnett asleep in their bungalow which was nestled among about 30 others. When she woke she went to the resort's veranda by some trees to read a book.

Although she could not see the beach , a short time later she heard "all hell break loose" as the tragedy unfolded.

"Water came up under the veranda and I thought that was a bit weird but all of a sudden people were screaming and started to run," she said.

Joining the exodus, Miss Barnett was picked up by a huge wave and taken inland before being dragged backwards and "hurled" into one of the bungalows.

"There was so much water. I was swirling around and didn't know where I was.

"It was really scary and I was worried," she said.

She grabbed on to the bungalow she had slammed into, then Miss Barnett and other survivors headed for the mountains where she waited for news of her partner.

She was left nursing deep, bleeding wounds to her legs and a sore eye after grit and dirt got behind one of her contact lenses.

"I didn't realise I had been hurt until I looked down and saw all the blood," she said.

A few hours later Mr Rigby returned from his fishing trip where the tsunami went unnoticed, and found Miss Barnett. They spent the night huddled together in the mountains with other survivors .

"As night fell you could see all these other little camps around the hills," she said.

Miss Barnett said they were spared the worst of the devastation and "thankfully" didn't have to deal with dead bodies.

"We were so lucky really, we didn't see any dead people at all. It was much worse for people staying in other places," she said.

The next morning her eye was swollen and she was taken to a doctor who sent her to hospital.

Mr Rigby said they had to hire a car with no other transport available.

"It was a nightmare," Mr Rigby said. "There were no beds and not enough doctors to deal with everyone."

Transferred to Praram Hospital in Bangkok, Miss Barnett was admitted with an eye infection and infected wounds on her legs and back.

"We had a bit of difficulty getting on the plane to Bangkok because our names weren't on the list but once we got there we did get a lot of help from the [New Zealand] embassy," Mr Rigby said.

While most people couldn't wait to leave the country after the tsunami, Miss Barnett and Mr Rigby returned home reluctantly and plan to return to Thailand at a later date.

"We will definitely be going back. We wanted to stay and help clean up," said Mr Rigby.

"We were made to feel so welcome. The people are so friendly and now everyone is worried tourists won't come back. It's going to be hard for them. A lot of their homes and businesses have gone."

However they will only be able to return if Miss Barnett's parents, Mary and Phil Barnett, let her out of the country again.

Meanwhile, Mrs Barnett is praising the actions of her daughter's partner.

"He made some incredibly good decisions," she said. "We are very indebted to him. He basically managed to be forceful and get Anna on a plane and to Bangkok where she got some fantastic medical treatment. The doctor here said she has received the best treatment with medication that isn't available in New Zealand."