Rescue at Whenuakura Donut Island After Waka Ama Crews Get into Trouble

Wednesday, 17 April 2024

One of the Coromandel Peninsula’s most popular tourist attractions was the location of yet another rescue after three waka ama crews found themselves in trouble.

Shortly after 10am on Tuesday 16 April, Police tasked the Whangamatā SLSC Search and Rescue Squad and Coastguard to help assist 16 people stranded on Whenuakura Donut Island.  They had paddled into the island’s lagoon where the waka ama had broken up.

Andrew Hodgson, Whangamatā SAR Squad Co-coordinator, said, “We deployed an Inflatable Rescue Boat with three crew members and made our way to the island.  When we got to the entrance of the lagoon, there were some big swells coming in.  We quickly assessed the patients who were in good spirits – just cold and wet.  Thankfully, no one was injured.”

The surf lifeguards carefully transported the patients out to a waiting Coastguard vessel, who then took them back to Whangamatā wharf.

One of the waka ama was able to be towed back to shore by Coastguard; however, the other vessels remain inside the island.

Coastguard Whangamatā Duty Officer Ross Falconer: “It was a fantastic result highlighting the great collaboration between Coastguard and SLSNZ both on and off the water. With everyone wearing lifejackets, we were quickly able to get all 16 ashore and get them warmed up with blankets and a hot drink at our base.”

Surf lifeguards from Whangamatā SLSC have seen an uptick in rescues at Whenuakura Donut Island in recent years, with at least 16 incidents during the 2023/2024 patrol season.

Hodgson said this incident serves as a reminder to not underestimate the conditions.  “Reading the conditions can be difficult, and things can change very quickly.  In this situation, it might have looked good from shore, but a metre easterly swell does push into the lagoon, and as the entrance narrows, the swell gets higher.”

Hodgson also reiterated that if you find yourself in trouble or if you see someone in trouble and surf lifeguards are not on patrol, call 111 and ask for police.