Furious mother says child almost drowned at Waterworld Tauranga; managing director rejects claims about lack of safety

A mother of three children is warning Kiwis about what she says is a lack of safety at a waterpark.
A mother of three children is warning Kiwis about what she says is a lack of safety at a waterpark. Photo credit: Supplied

A Tauranga mother is furious after what she says was a "terrifying" experience at a popular local waterpark.

But the waterpark's managing director is rejecting her claims about a lack of safety, saying he's investigated the matter and is confident his lifeguards did the right thing.

Jenna Thomsen said she took her excited children, aged 9, 11 and 13, to Waterworld on The Strand on Tuesday.  

However, she said the day quickly turned into a nightmare after the current swept her youngest child beneath a large inflatable platform.  

Thomsen took to Facebook to warn parents and families of her experience.  

"This place is a death trap waiting to happen. I'm a strong woman and swimmer and struggled, so I'd hate to think what might have happened if I wasn't.  

"Very scary experience," she wrote.  

She told Newshub she was "appalled and shocked" at what she said was a lack of safety.

"We booked online and when we got there, there were about four workers in the tent," she said.  

"They gave us the life jackets and told me I had to be at arm's-length of my youngest. However, no one mentioned anything to us about the current or the tide. 

She said it didn't take long before things she believed to be dangerous started occurring.

Jenna Thomsen said her 9-year-old son never wants to return to the waterpark in the future.
Jenna Thomsen said her 9-year-old son never wants to return to the waterpark in the future. Photo credit: Supplied

"As soon as we got onto the park, my son pretty much fell into the water right away. He was trapped in this enclosed area and he had to take his lifejacket off to swim underneath the platform to get himself out. 

"There was no other way to get himself out, as two of the handles were broken.  

"He managed to get himself out but I noticed others were ending up in the same area."  

Thomsen said there were roughly 30 others using the park at the same time as them. 

'Even the teenagers were really struggling'  

"I ended up having to help a couple of people out of that section, including a mother who couldn't pull herself out of the water," Thomsen explained.  

"Even the teenagers were really struggling. I had to grab one of their lifejackets and physically pull them out." 

She claims the three lifeguards on duty "weren't paying attention".

Waterworld managing director Kel Travers rejected this claim.

Travers told Newshub that he's carried out a "comprehensive investigation" and is "confident that our lifeguards did the right thing". 

"This is not an incident because no one was injured and we followed the Australian standard rules specified by WorkSafe," Travers said.

"We had five lifeguards on yesterday, and three of them were on the waterpark."

The waterpark is a popular place for many Kiwis during the summer.
The waterpark is a popular place for many Kiwis during the summer. Photo credit: Facebook/Waterworld Waterparks

Thomsen said when she started feeling "sketchy" she told her kids they would go around just one more time.

"It didn't take long before my youngest son fell again. He was making his way over one of the big blow-up balls and ended up in the water.  

"He fell right into a blind spot."  

Thomsen said it wasn't until she climbed over the ball that she noticed him struggling.  

"He was stuck in a corner and his legs were dangling underneath the platform, so I jumped in straight away. That's when I realised just how strong the current was."  

She said he was being swept under the platform and "at one point, he went under."

"The lifejacket keeps you up but the current is pulling you down, so you get stuck. It's terrifying. 

"Neither of us could touch the bottom, and there were heaps of ropes underneath us, tying the inflatables together. It freaked me out, what if one of us went under and then got stuck? 

"My son was screaming at me to help him and I was really struggling.  

"As a woman with really strong upper-body strength I was shocked.  

"By the time we got out of the water and back onto the platform we were both really out of breath and in shock. Still, no one had come up to us to help. 

"I was really upset and my son told me he never wanted to go to the park again."  

Thomsen said they didn't receive a safety briefing before entering the park. However, Travers insisted the family was given a safety briefing on arrival.

"When they go through our digital booking system they get briefed on the tides and when they arrive the staff show them the rate of the tidal currents and what to do when you get in trouble," he said.

In a Facebook comment earlier on Wednesday, responding to Thomsen, Travers noted he'd talked to all staff involved.

"A section of the park has been changed this morning to ensure the area that Jenna claims she had an issue in will not be an issue in the future.

"Our awesome team is quite distraught regarding some of the comments on here. They are great staff who work very hard and have relevant lifeguard and first aid skills. 

"We will be in contact with those involved again soon."