Tourists ‘lucky to be alive’ after kayaks swept to sea


American tourists swept out to sea were lucky to make it to shore in Northland after a horror week of drownings around New Zealand.

The father and son, aged 70 and 43, were caught in rough seas while kayaking at the entrance to the Hokianga Harbour about 4pm on Thursday.

Their kayaks capsized and the duo were sucked across the bar on the outgoing tide.

Police received several phone calls from people who had seen one of the men separated from his kayak, while the other was left clinging desperately to his.

The son scrambled ashore on the ocean side of North Head about 30 minutes later.

The sea was so rough members of the Hokianga Coastguard decided it was too dangerous to cross the bar and search for the men in the open sea.

A helicopter from Whangarei, called in to help, spotted the older man at 6pm washed ashore nearly 4km along the beach.

It landed on the beach and flew the man back to Omapere, where he and his son were staying at the Copthorne Hotel.

Both men were wearing life jackets and were unhurt.

Northland police search and rescue leader Senior Sergeant Cliff Metcalfe said the pair were lucky not to become drowning statistics.

“They were lucky to be swept on to shore, they wouldn’t have lasted too long in the sea. They are very lucky to be alive.

“Given the length of time they were in the water it was highly likely we were looking for bodies.”

He was appalled the pair had ventured out in such rough seas. “The local coastguard, who know the area and train there, were not prepared to cross the bar. If people continue to play Russian roulette in the water, people will drown.”

The incident came a day after statistics revealed that, for the second year in a row, Northland had the third-worst drowning record in New Zealand.

This year has got off to a tragic start throughout the country, with nine drownings in nine days since New Year’s Day, including four within 35 minutes on Wednesday.

Figures released this week showed last year nationally had the second-lowest annual total of drownings since records began in 1980. But at 110 that was still 21 per cent above the record low 2006 toll of 91.

Last year, boating-related drowning deaths fell sharply to 13, well below the annual average of the five previous years of 18.

Eight people drowned scuba diving, snorkelling and free diving, the highest number since 2003 when there were 10.

There were 34 non-recreational drownings last year, all of which were accidental immersions.

Nine people drowned in home pools – the highest number since 2001 when there were nine. The home pool was the most prevalent site for the drowning of children aged between 1 and 4.

Victims were overwhelmingly male (76 per cent) and the most at-risk age group was 45-54 years.