The son of a violent drug dealer who broke the cycle of abuse and now saves Kiwi lives

Warning: This article contains details about child abuse.

Child abuse is a massive problem in New Zealand that has allegedly cost three children their lives already this year - but there is hope the cycle can be broken.

Proof of that is Mike Hill, the son of a notorious jailed criminal who witnessed and took abuse both physical and psychological.

But this victim turned his own life around and now helps save the lives of Kiwis in the Coromandel.

The water has always been Hill's happy place, his safe place. Most days he can be found in his canoe, on his own, paddling in peace near Waihi.

"I love the rougher the weather - that's what I enjoy. I enjoy the conflict of the ocean with the elements and I love being vulnerable out there in those elements," he tells Newshub.

"Unfortunately [I'm] not a Safety Sam - no lifejackets, no phone, no nothing. [I'm] at the mercy of the elements, that's the way I like, on the edge a little bit and you understand what living is about."

And what a life he's had. Hill was born into a well-known crime family; his dad committed robberies and dealt drugs, and both his parents did jail time.

The family home housed plenty of drugs, bad men and abuse, both physical and psychological. 

"There's holes punched in walls, mum's got a few bruises, I've got a few bruises and it just started to escalate," Hill recounts.

"When I was a little bit older and got a bit bigger, that's when my father told me no longer will he use his hand, he'll start using his fist."

Hill recalls a major police drug bust at the family home, and also the night a gang member tried to attack his mother and Hill intervened. He was barely 15.

"Tony has held me outside the window [of a] two-storey house and told me he was going to kill me if I tried to intervene or anything like that… [I had] fear in my head, and my head being in two places, wanting to protect my mum and wanting to kill him."

This way of life took a heavy toll.

"There was so much noise inside my head, I didn't know how to process it, didn't know how to release it, didn't know who to talk to, didn't trust anyone."

Hill's upbringing left him in a really bad headspace. He was angry, would fight others and didn't want to see anyone happy.

At one stage he was suicidal and told his parents he wanted to check out for good. But then it all changed when he met a woman who would become his wife.  

"She just gave me support, which is something that I'd never really had."

And then his daughters came along.

"As soon as [my daughter] was born, it's like 'there goes the click' - that's what love was and that’s where everything changed," he said.

"It's nice and I get a chance to correct something here. My girls, they would paint my nails pink before I went to a wedding and I just did not care."

With that unconditional love and support, Hill became an award-winning photographer, then six years ago he joined St John and is now saving Kiwi lives. He loves it.

He's now also apologised to the people he abused and shared his story with Child Matters, an organisation that identifies and responds to child abuse.

He even tried to make amends with his father who recently died.

"Now that I know my father's full story, I wish I could go back to when he was that six-, seven-year-old and give him all that nurture, support and aroha - everything he needed - because he would have turned out a different person."

While out on the water, Hill often thinks about how to protect Kiwi children from his own childhood experience. He says education, speaking out and support is key.

He's also thankful that he could break the cycle and have the life he always wanted but never thought he could have.