Warning over Coromandel Peninsula lagoon after 32 people rescued

Kiwis are being warned after 32 people were rescued from the swimming hole over summer.
Kiwis are being warned after 32 people were rescued from the swimming hole over summer. Photo credit: Getty Images

People are being warned over visiting a popular swimming hot spot after an increase in rescues. 

Whenuakura on Coromandel Peninsula is known for it's beautiful coastal attractions, not far from the coast of Whangamatā. 

The island has a turqoise lagoon in its centre, formed by a collapsed volcanic blowhole hence it's nickname 'Donut Island'. This lagoon is accessed by swimming through a cave. 

This season, surf lifeguards responded to 16 incidents at Whenuakura, involving 32 people, Surf Lifesaving NZ said in a statement.  

The rescues included local resident Mike Foley and his two children. 

On 18 January, Foley's son and daughter found themselves stranded in the lagoon and were unable to exit through the cave. 

"The sea was a bit too big for them, and they weren't confident about getting out.  Thankfully they had radios, so they called the Whangamatā surf lifeguards who went in and yanked them out," Foley recalled.  

Although the pair were safely rescued, they left the double kayak behind, which they'd borrowed from friends. 

Foley said he was keen on returning the kayak, so a week later headed back to the lagoon on a jet ski to retrieve it.  

"We floated on the jet ski in front of the island for about 10 minutes, and conditions seemed reasonable.  So, I swam in there, but when I went through the cave and into the lagoon, there was no kayak," he said. 

While Foley searched the lagoon to see if the kayak had wedged itself somewhere, the swell started to grow.  

When he eventually decided to leave 30 minutes later, waves were pouring through the cave. 

"I thought to myself 'I'm not a strong enough swimmer and I'm too old'," he said. 

Mike's friend on the jet ski soon grew worried and called for help, to which the Whangamatā surf lifeguards were notified and soon arrived.  

"My first thought when I saw them was, 'I'm a big fella, are they going to be able to pull me out?' but they knew exactly what they were doing." 

Mike was successfully rescued from the lagoon and taken back to shore. 

"I have nothing but praise for all of the surf lifeguards involved, and my two children said the exact same thing after they were rescued," he said. 

Foley said he's not put off by the ocean following the rescue, but it has made him stop and think. 

"We thought we'd checked out the weather conditions and the environment before going in, but we didn't do it well enough.  We also only focused on the first leg of the journey, but you need to make sure you plan the whole trip there and back," he explained,  

"If the trip does go wrong, do your best to stay calm."