Surf lifeguards are highlighting the hidden dangers at a tourist hot spot off Whangamatā beach following an “uptick” in the number of rescues there in recent months.
Whenuakura island in the Coromandel Peninsula gets its nickname — Donut Island — due to the formation of a turquoise lagoon at its centre caused by a collapsed volcanic blowhole.
The “must do” destination has been steadily gaining popularity on social media, prompting a reminder from lifeguards who have responded to 16 incidents there so far this summer, some involving children. Already, 32 people have been rescued this season.
One of the rescued was Whangamatā resident Mike Foley, who described the terrifying ordeal when he and his two children became stranded after kayaking into the lagoon.
“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 explained.
Although the pair were safely rescued, Foley said he wanted to return to the island to retrieve the double kayak they’d left behind.
On January 24, they floated on a jet ski in front of the island to assess conditions before swimming in through the cave, however the kayak was nowhere to be found.
Foley said the swell started to get “bigger and bigger” and waves were pouring through the cave when he attempted to leave 30 minutes later.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m not a strong enough swimmer and I’m too old! I’m 69; my days of being foolhardy are long gone. This is beyond me now; don’t be stupid’.”
A rescue response was triggered at 9.45am with Whangamata surf lifeguards responding in a rescue boat and swimming into the cave to retrieve him.
“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. They were skilful and incredibly professional, and they were logical in the way they stopped and worked it all out,” Foley said.
Foley said he was “not put off by the ocean” after the ordeal but gave advice to other people wanting to check out the picturesque spot.
“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”.