Missing Marokopa family: Surf Lifesavers take to the sea to continue search for Thomas Phillips and his three children

A search of the sea will begin on Thursday in the ongoing hunt for missing man Thomas Phillips and his three children, who have not been seen since Saturday.

Twenty Surf Lifesavers will take to the choppy waters surrounding the remote Kiritehere Beach, a remote stretch of coastline in the rural Waikato community of Marokopa.

The search for Phillips, 34, and the children - eight-year-old Jayda Jin, six-year-old Maverick Callum-Phillips, and five-year-old Ember Phillips - is now entering its fourth day. The operation was launched on Monday after Phillips' family notified the police of their disappearance.

On Sunday morning, Phillips' ute - a 2004 Toyota Hilux - was found seemingly abandoned on Kiritehere Beach, flooded by the incoming tide.

The rugged terrain and poor weather has hampered the search this week, with the conditions on Wednesday preventing the Eagle helicopter and the Coastguard fixed-wing aircraft from taking to the skies.

Police on Thursday afternoon released photos of Phillips and his children as part of a broadening appeal for information.

"We want to acknowledge the family’s incredible strength at this very difficult time and thank them for their on-going help," Waikato west area commander Insp Will Loughrin said.

"Police are now broadening the appeal for information and want to speak to anyone who was in the Marokopa or Kiritehehe Beach areas either Saturday 11 or Sunday September 12.

Jayda, Thomas, Maverick and Ember.
Jayda, Thomas, Maverick and Ember. Photo credit: New Zealand Police/Supplied

"While you might not think you have seen something, we want to hear from you."

Police staff, LandSAR, Fire and Emergency crews and the Coastguard have so far been primarily focusing search efforts on the surrounding land. Ground-based crews have scoured the local Kiritehere and Marokopa communities and coastline areas for any sign of the family, while teams went door-knocking on Tuesday in the hope of gleaning further information about their whereabouts.

"The search today has centred on the water with sea-based searches conducted in the Marokopa and Kiritehehe Beach areas by the Raglan Surf Life Saving Squad and the Taranaki Surf Life Saving Rescue Squad," Loughrin said.

"LandSAR volunteers and police staff are completing further ground-based coastline searches.

"A team of investigators, working out of Te Awamutu, continue to build a detailed timeline of Tom and the children’s movements."

Police say there are grave concerns for the welfare of Phillips and his children, who live on the family farm in Marokopa. It's understood Phillips also owns a property in Ōtorohanga.

Phillips' family say the 34-year-old is familiar with the rugged terrain and well-equipped to survive in the bush, with Waitomo District Mayor John Robertson telling The AM Show on Wednesday that Phillips "knows the area very well".

"As time goes on, anxieties increase," he said. "There is a feeling that Thomas, he knows how to live in conditions like this, he knows the bush, he knows the area very well, so we're keeping our fingers crossed."

In an update on Wednesday afternoon, police released pictures of the ute - a silver-grey 2004 Toyota Hilux.

"Police continue to ask for sightings of Thomas and his children. In particular, any movements of his 2004 silver/grey-coloured Toyota Hilux prior to it being located on the beach at Kiritehere on Sunday," Loughrin said. "Police remain focused and committed to finding Thomas and his children and bringing them home, and we continue to work with and support their extended family."

Thomas Phillips' 2004 Toyota Hilux.
Thomas Phillips' 2004 Toyota Hilux. Photo credit: Supplied

The disappearance has been described as "out of character". According to police, "no issues" were raised when relatives last spoke to Phillips on Saturday evening.

Authorities have been determining a timeline of events, including "what was said" and "what the intentions of Thomas were in terms of his movement", Loughrun said earlier this week.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 105 and quote file number 210913/1952.