Whakatāne locals swim for Aleppo

A local community banding together to raise funds for Syria have taken to the seas for a whale of a swim.

WhaleAid's big event was a swim from Moutohorā (Whale Island) to Whakatāne - a distance of around 9.36km, a massive undertaking for the eight swimmers.

"It's a big endeavour for a group of people who don't have a background in marathon swimming," Eastern Bay participant and joint-organiser Anne Bulley told Newshub.

At the crack of dawn on Saturday they took off, taking to the water for the sake of those thousands of kilometres away.

It was a gruelling swim, with the first swimmer taking three hours and the final reaching land after five - but it was all worth it.

"They're families like ours. There are disasters all over the world so we could be doing this for anyone, but somehow that just hit really hard," Ms Bulley said.

"You see kids like our kids just being pulled out of rubble, you hear about people leaving their brothers, their sisters, their parents, and are now just living in makeshift tents outside the city with nothing."

It's a view shared by other swimmers.

"It was very hard, harder than I thought it would be - but I'm sure if you go look in those camps in Syria, they'll be worse than you think they will be. That's just the way it is," Liddy Bakker said.

Seven of the eight participants were locals from Eastern Bay, but the eighth was from Wellington. She had been fundraising on her own when she heard of WhaleAid's event, coming up specially for Saturday's swim.

While the swim was WhaleAid's headline event, smaller fundraising events have also sprung up as part of it.

Several local schools are holding mufti days to raise money, while they're also planning to hold a dinner on Ohope Wharf - a first for the area - called 'Sunset on the Wharf'.

"It shows how the community has really got in behind it," Ms Bulley said.

"We set an original target of raising $10,000 by May 1 and just on Friday, our bank balance was just over $20,000."

The target has now been bumped up to between $25,000 and $30,000 by the beginning of May.

The funds are being distributed by ReliefAid, which helps provide life-saving relief to those in Syria.