Police describe 'overwhelming' moment finding Tolaga Bay boy Axle

The moment missing three-year-old Axle was found was "quite overwhelming", police say, after the young boy slept overnight in a small gully after disappearing on Tuesday afternoon.

A T-shirt, gumboots, and a nappy were all the boy was wearing when he spent a night in the bush all alone.

He took off with the neighbour's dog at about 1pm from his home in a remote part of Tolaga Bay, north of Gisborne, and a search involving police, volunteers, and the rescue helicopter began.

"We had pretty much our whole rugby team out there last night," local Drew Hunt says.

"I had my boys down and my husband. There was about 120 of us," another local says.

Family friend Ange Marsh says Axle's mother spent the night looking "in all the crevasses", including around machinery, fallen trees, and climbing up hills.

Hundreds spent the night searching for Axle and on Wednesday morning they were able to give his mum and dad the good news - he'd been found safe and well.

"All I could hear was this really happy little boy talking about his big adventure, and obviously mum and dad are absolutely in tears and happy and relieved," Marsh says.

Police describe 'overwhelming' moment finding Tolaga Bay boy Axle
Photo credit: Facebook / Uawa Live

Tairāwhiti area police commander Inspector Sam Aberahama was also relieved when Axle was found.

"Any three-year-old boy that's away from their mum is going to be really upset, so to find him today was quite overwhelming, actually, compared to what we finished on last night," he says.

On Tuesday, infrared cameras and police dogs failed to pick up any sign of the young boy, but volunteers didn't give up. For 20 hours they walked along riverbanks, through forests, and across the farms of Uawa, and at 10:45 on Wednesday morning he was found.

Axle was about three to four kilometres from his home north of Tolaga Bay. The man who found him says he was cold, disorientated, and crying out for his mum.

"Probably indescribable from a parent perspective. It was very emotional," Insp Aberahama says.

After a quick medical check, Axle was deemed to be in good health. He reportedly told his mum he slept out with the rabbits and had a very big adventure.