A man carried out to sea during an early morning swim in a harbour on Southland's Catlins coast is lucky to be alive, police say.
The Dunedin man, in his 20s, had been drinking with a group when he was encouraged to swim out to a moored yacht at Waikawa Wharf and became caught in the outgoing current in the harbour channel.
When he was reported missing about 1:40am on Sunday, volunteers from Waikawa Rural Fire, local commercial fishermen, members of the Tokanui LandSAR group and a night-vision-equipped helicopter from Southern Lakes Helicopters in Te Anau were all deployed to search.
The man made it ashore on the opposite side of the harbour, crossed farmland to an isolated road in Progress Valley where he walked six kilometres before finding a house where he could ring police about 3:20am to say he was safe.
"It is never a good idea to go swimming in unfamiliar water, particularly at night and especially not if you have been drinking," said Sergeant Ian Martin.