The "gutwrenching" death of a 5-year-old boy at Minginui has prompted warnings from local water safety experts.
The tragedy comes as the country's drowning death toll rises to 14 preventable drowning fatalities for the holiday period.
Emergency crews and helicopters were called to Mangamate Waterfall on Wednesday. The crew's attempts to resuscitate the boy failed.
The young boy's death was the third water-related death for that day, others included a 28-year-old man who died while swimming the Waingaro River, a scuba diving accident at Waiwera Beach and a 4-year-old who drowned in Kai Iwi Lakes.
Water Safety NZ reported on Tuesday that eight preventable drowning fatalities have occurred in 2022 across the country - only four days into the new year.
Four of these deaths occurred in rivers and one in a lake.
Fatal drownings were up 180 per cent this holiday period. The Christmas Eve afternoon to the morning of January 5 period, which usually has an average of five drowning deaths, had 14.
Whakatāne Mayor Judy Turner said the 5-year-old boy's death was a tragedy.
Turner said, "it's horrendous and I cannot think of anything worse for the child's parents and grandparents and other whanau... I felt sick when I first heard about it.
"I know Water Safety New Zealand has been pleading with people to take more care while boating or swimming at the beach, in rivers or any other waterway."
Turner said the drowning rate this summer had shot up massively, which was not only devastating for the families but also the wider community, including the emergency services staff who responded to these incidents.
"This should reinforce to everyone 'big-time' how important it is that we take a little more care, especially when supervising children in and around the water.
"Accidents can happen but it only takes a moment for a fun day out to turn to tragedy."
Turner said her heartfelt sympathies also went to the people who did their very best to save the child and knew they would be hurting too.
On December 17, a rahui on visitor access to Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tane Conservation Park was imposed by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whare and supported by the Department of Conservation to help protect Ngati Whare iwi's low-vaccinated community.
The rahui was in place until January 31.
Ngāti Whare iwi was also approached for comment.
Turner said she urged people to abide by any rahui placed on the area where the child died, "first and foremost it's about respect".
A police spokesperson could not provide the child's name out of respect to the family.
Water Safety NZ chief executive Daniel Gerrard said a common theme for recent drownings is people underestimating the conditions and overestimating their ability
Gerrard said "this is a horrific loss of lives and is unprecedented. It cuts through every age range, water activity and ethnicity".
Rotorua Lakes Community Board chairman Phill Thomass said, "it's absolutely tragic to see this happen around the country, I am so glad we haven't had any on our lakes in Rotorua."
"Every drowning on one of our lakes the whole lakes community feels it, its as if we've lost one of our own, whether its someone who lives her or doesn't."
Thomass said the accidents make Rotorua aware to be cautious around water.
He said the many immigrants coming to live in Rotorua "often don't have the same opportunities to become familiar with water safety in their own countries as we're lucky in New Zealand", causing them to have a number of drowning deaths.
Thomass said one of the main reasons for drownings is the behaviour of many new boats and jet skis.
"One of the things about a boat is that you don't have to be taught how to run a boat, you don't have to know the rules, you don't have to have a licence."
Thomass said the busiest lakes are likely to have more accidents, particularly Lake Tarawera and Lake Rotoiti.
Fast-flowing water, holes and fallen trees creating a changing nature can make rivers dangerous, Thomass said.
As lifeguards advise for beaches, "if the water is rough and there's one calm patch, that's the place to avoid", and that's the same for rivers, Thomass said.
Thomass said to prevent drowning statistics from increasing, "learn to swim and the second thing is if you're not a confident swimmer stay in the shallow water", such as the Blue Lake.
Thomass said the Rotorua lakes community board with the council is developing a long-term plan for a "purpose-built, learn-to-swim pool at the Aquatic Centre".
While he wasn't sure when the "state-of-the-art" facility would be finished, he's certain it will be in the next five years.
Rotorua Coast Guard president Jeremy Doorman said the news of a child's death at Mangamate was "gutwrenching".
Despite an increase of boats and water skis used in Rotorua lakes, the coast guard hasn't been called to any medical-related events.
Doorman wanted to remind the community about the lake rules that keep everyone safe, such as swimming away from the ski lanes, boats should not go above five knots 50 metres from a swimmer, boats should not exceed 5 knots within 200 metres of the shore, wear lifejackets and bring two forms of communication.
Water Safe NZ key safety messages include:
- Always taking a buddy
- Swimming between the flags at patrolled beaches
- Active adult supervision of children around water
- Watching out for rips
- Always wearing a lifejacket on boats and while fishing from rocks or net fishing. Boaties and paddlers need to take two waterproof forms of communication with them when they head out on the water
- Preventable fatalities include recreational and non-recreational drowning deaths. They do not include those fatalities classified as 'other' (arising as a result of road or air vehicle accidents, homicide, suicide or of unknown origin) as these are not considered applicable to the prevention and rescue efforts of the water safety sector.
Source: Water Safety New Zealand