'It's unbelievable': Taupō fights to keep its rescue helicopter

The Taupō community put on a show of force on Monday as it mounts a challenge to keep its rescue helicopter.

The Ministry of Health is looking to cut rescue helicopter bases, including Taupō and Rotorua, as part of a review of services.

But the locals are putting up a fight, with a protest march on Monday led by Taupō Mayor David Trewavas.

"It's like taking the lifeguards out of Piha. We just need this service so desperately it's unbelievable," he told Newshub.

The National Ambulance Service says it's upgrading services but will have to cut a number of bases.

That includes the Taupō rescue helicopter, which carried out nearly 260 missions last year.

"What they're saying is those jobs will now have to come from Hamilton - but what happens if that Hamilton helicopter's tied up?" asks Mayor Trewavas.

Residents say it's a matter of life or death.

"The helicopter is so essential for this area, next to the mountain and a lot of roads and the Desert Road," one local said.

"It's something we cannot afford to lose. You see so many times that helicopter going out," said another.

Taupō rescue helicopter pilot Nat Every is concerned that the Government's plan would put lives at risk.

"There is a gaping hole that exists in the central region and the consequence of that is if anything does happen to you, you'll be waiting significantly longer than you currently do."

The Taupō helicopter can reach the National Park in 15 to 20 minutes - but without it, people in critical need could be waiting more than an hour.

As well as Taupō, Rotorua, Whitianga and Te Anau are among the services at risk of being axed. More than 18,000 people have signed a petition to save the helicopter.

The Ministry of Health says no decision has been made yet, and no community will be left without a service.

Mayors from Taupō, Ruapehu and Rotorua are heading to Parliament next Monday to meet with ministers in the the hope they can save theirs.