Family missing in south Waikato found 'safe and well'

A family missing in south Waikato for 19 days have been found "safe and well".

Father Thomas Phillips and children Jayda Jin, Maverick Callum-Phillips and Ember Phillips were found in Marokopa on Thursday morning, police said. 

Phillips' sister Rozzi Pethybridge told Newshub he "just walked in the door". 

"As Dad said, 'I just hope he walks in,' and he has. This is the best-case scenario.

"I talked to him for about two minutes and there were lots of tears. I want to be respectful of Tom's wishes so I can't say too much at the moment... maybe he chose a safe place to clear his head."

At an update on Thursday afternoon, Waikato West Area Commander Inspector Will Loughrin confirmed all four are home and are doing well.

He said police were notified after a member of the public spotted a man and three young children on a bike at about 5:30am on Wednesday. After deploying drones and a plane to search the area, nothing was found. Loughrin said he then received a phone call at about 8am on Thursday that the family had returned home.

Police are currently speaking to the family to clarify their movements over the past 17 days.

Loughrin said the four were living in a tent in a dense bush area. He is currently unsure if they were in one location or moved around the area. Phillips is an experienced bushman and was able to look after himself, Loughrin added.

"It is extraordinary," he said of the family returning home. "To happen this way is fantastic for the family. This is a family who experienced 17 days of hell."

Before Thursday, Phillips and the children - aged eight, six and five - were last seen on September 11. Searches around inland and coastal areas of Marokopa and Kiritehere were suspended nearly a week ago, with no trace of the four found.

Phillips' family two weeks ago said he is familiar with the rugged terrain and well-equipped to survive in the bush, and Waitomo District Mayor John Robertson told The AM Show on Wednesday Phillips "knows the area very well".