Marokopa search: Locals' patience wears thin as latest search for Tom Phillips and children enters fourth day

Residents of the coastal Waikato settlement of Marokopa are waking up to the fourth day of a big police presence, as the hunt for fugitive father Tom Phillips continues.

On Tuesday, the police offered an $80,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Phillips' three children - Jayda, Maverick and Ember.

The patience of some locals is wearing thin after two-and-a-half-years. Police believe someone is helping them stay hidden in the Marokopa area.

One woman told Morning Report when his ute was found abandoned in September 2021, Marokopa residents came out in force to help search. She believed Phillips was not thinking of what was best for his young family.

RNZ's Natalie Akoorie, reporting from the King Country village, said there was no indication yet how long the police would stay in the area. The reward expires on June 25.

She told Morning Report when the family first disappeared there was huge outpouring of worry and support, and police investigating the case were helped and even fed by locals.

But now there were growing frustrations, with locals repeatedly being breathalysed. Some felt there was a lot of negative focus on the town, Akoorie said, and wanted it to go away and for Phillips to do the right thing and turn himself in.

By and large residents supported the latest police effort however, if it brings an end to the saga. But it was not clear what the police operation was actually doing and how they expected it might bring about the return of the children.

Philips does not have legal custody of the children. Police say he is armed, and should not be approached.

There have been unconfirmed sightings of the group, including at a thermal hot pools two hours' drive from Marokopa.

Police on Thursday said they had been continuing to receive and assess information as they sought the safe return of the three children.

"We have concerns for the welfare of the children who have been living in isolation for the past two-and-a-half-years, with no connection to others and without formal education and healthcare," Acting Detective Inspector Andrew Saunders said.

He urged anyone with credible information to get in touch.

Anyone wanting to contact them can do so by emailing, calling 105 or filing a report online, using the reference number 211218/5611.

Saunders also acknowledged Marokopa residents coping with the disruption as search efforts continued, and thanked them for their understanding.