Rotorua's lakes are one of the many natural playgrounds tamariki can enjoy, and a new programme plans to help educate them on how to be safe in open water.

Kauria Te Moana programme director Scott Rice says his company Quantum Events has been working with the Rotorua Lakes Council for about five years on the Legend of the Lake swim - one of the company's fresh water swims at Lake Tikitapu.

He says they want to engage the local young community and help them to be confident in the open water.

"Together we thought it was a fantastic opportunity to help educate Rotorua children on open water safety and swimming skills.

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"With Rotorua having plenty of lakes, it's important for children to know how to be safe in open water, which is entirely different to swimming in the pool."

The programme is aimed at young people (ages seven to 12) that are already comfortable swimming a short distance who are keen to give open water swimming a go.

It will teach the children essential safety skills for open water and give them the opportunity to participate in the Banana Boat OceanKids event.

There will be a training day on February 29 at Lake Tikitapu where the participants will spend time at the pool learning skills with qualified coaches and then be transported to Lake Tikitapu to hear the cultural history of the lake and have a training session on open water swimming and safety.

The programme is free and there are 100 places available, with a number already booked. The Banana Boat OceanKids event is on March 21. Each participant gets a free entry to the event.

Children have to be at a school within the Rotorua district, and they have to be competent swimming certain distances for their age.

"This is not a learn-to-swim programme, it's an awareness initiative."

He says children who learn to swim in a swimming pool do not have to worry about external factors like weather, not being able to the bottom and unexpected conditions.

"Often children confident in the swimming pool can become less confident in open water because it's an open environment.

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"It's important for them to learn to relax and learn skills so they know what to do if the conditions were to worsen, for example."

Funding partners are One Foundation, CLN and Rotorua Lakes Council.

Children doing their best in last year's Legends of the Lake. Photo / Supplied
Children doing their best in last year's Legends of the Lake. Photo / Supplied

Hunter Te Kowhai, 8, is going to be participating in the Kauria Te Moana programme.

He says he enjoys swimming because it is fun and he likes the water.

He does not go swimming in the lakes very often, and says it is important to learn about water safety so you know what to do, just in case.

He is looking forward to racing in the Banana Boat OceanKids. He has taken part before and says it has a fun atmosphere, though swimming in the lake is colder.

Rotorua Aquatic Centre's Swim Magic instructor Waimana Rossi-Baker says it is important to get children comfortable with swimming and in deep water.

He says every Kiwi kid goes to the beach and lakes, and they want to get into the water when it is a hot day and swim with mates.

Waimana says he enjoys seeing the progress of the children and meeting new families.

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Jonty Mills says research they have helped fund out of Otago University by Professor Chris Button shows that children learning in open water environments have higher levels of retention of the taught water safety knowledge.

"We believe that aquatic education in open water should be part of every New Zealand child's development."

He says according to the research learning water safety skills seems attached to the context in which they are taught, so Water Safety New Zealand thinks learning outside the pool is critical, as most drownings occur in open water.

"We are blessed with a variety of aquatic environments in New Zealand and it's important every New Zealander learns the risks associated with them, how to make smart decisions and how to stay safe."

The details
- Applications for the Kauria Te Moana programme close at 5pm today.
- They must be completed and dropped into the box at the Rotorua Aquatic Centre reception.
- The programme is for children seven-12. Seven and 8-year-olds need to be able to competently swim 100m, nine and 10-year-olds 200m and 11 and 12-year-olds 400m to qualify.
- Information and the application can be viewed and downloaded from oceanswim.co.nz/events/legend-of-the-lake-rotorua/
- This webpage also has information about the Generation Homes Legend of the Lake. Entries for this are open until March 19.

Water Safety
- Always swim between the flags at a beach patrolled by Surf Life Saving New Zealand.
- Never swim in or try and cross a river with fast-moving water and get local knowledge about the risks.
- Boaties - check the forecast, wear your lifejackets and take two waterproof ways to call for help.
- Divers and snorkellers always take a buddy with you and learn and follow best practice.
Source: Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Jonty Mills