The bodies of the two missing students and their climbing instructor are expected to rise to the ocean's surface some time between today and Thursday, police say.
Spotswood College students Felipe Melo, 17, and Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye, 17, and Topec instructor Bryce John Jourdain, 42, are still missing after being swept into the sea on Wednesday. They are presumed drowned.
Taranaki police search and rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Andrew Ross said the most likely place for the bodies to show up would be along the New Plymouth foreshore.
While searchers were hopeful they would be the ones to find the bodies it was possible members of the public may be first to see them.
"If anyone does find anything please let us know as soon as possible. Don't go near it, we would prefer it not to be touched."
If anyone has seen a body they have been asked to contact the New Plymouth police on 759 5500 or to ring 111.
Oceanographers have been assisting the body retrieval operation, codenamed Operation Rock, helping to map tides and ocean currents.
The search has been scaled back today.
Five inflatable rescue boats and two police kayaks will search the area around Paritutu Rock and Port Taranaki, while 15 personnel will carry out a shoreline search from Tapuae to Mangati Rd in Bell Block.
Yesterday an alpine climbing team searched the rocks around the base of Paritutu and kayakers were searching Port Taranaki's main breakwater to see if the bodies had become wedged in the akmons, Inspector Frank Grant said.
Taranaki Surf Lifesaving inflatable rescue boats attempted to go into parts of the cave area underneath Paritutu Rock but water conditions were too rough making it difficult to search the area, he said.
Yesterday's aerial searches indicated it was unlikely the bodies were floating out at sea.
"We still suspect it's close to shore,'' Mr Grant said.
Several items of clothing have been found by search and rescue, but it is not yet known if they belong to the missing, he said.
"We haven't had the opportunities to show it to the families."
Police have praised the efforts of community volunteers who have carried out their own searches of the past four days.
"We didn't even have to ask for assistance," he said.
"At times of difficulty like this the Taranaki community comes together. The support from the New Plymouth community has been huge over the past few days."
- © Fairfax NZ News