Pair winched to safety in 'atrocious conditions' near Farewell Spit
Two tourists swept 400 metres out to sea at a Golden Bay beach spent close to seven hours clinging to rocks in "atrocious conditions" before being rescued by a Defence Force helicopter.
The 30-year-old woman from Australia and 28-year-old man from Croatia were treated for mild hypothermia following the daring rescue in stormy weather shortly before dark on Wednesday.
The pair had gone swimming at Wharariki Beach, near the western base of Farewell Spit, about 1pm on Wednesday.
Senior Constable Jonathan Davies, of Takaka Police, said they were wading in chest-deep water when they were knocked over by a rogue wave and swept 400 metres out to sea.
"Weather conditions were appalling. The sea state was just boiling with three metre waves. The fact that they even went anywhere near the water in such conditions is mind boggling."
Friends raised the alarm when they noticed the pair were in trouble.
The pair attempted to swim back to shore but the current was too strong, Davies said. They were able to clamber onto the second of the Archway Islands and climbed about 10 metres up a cliff. The man was wearing swimming shorts and the woman was wearing bikini bottoms.
"They didn't think there was any possibility of being rescued in the conditions that were prevailing at the time and thought they were going to have to spend at least 24 hours waiting for the weather to improve."
Davies said they were battered by heavy rain, 100kmh winds and three metre waves during the seven-hour ordeal.
The Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter, LandSar and a Nelson surf rescue crew responded, but conditions were too poor for them to attempt a rescue.
A Defence Force NH90 helicopter with 10 crew on board was deployed from Ohakea Air Base in Manawatu.
The pair were winched from the cliff about 8pm and taken to Golden Bay Community Health, where they stayed overnight.
Sergeant Mal York said the efforts of the rescuers in atrocious conditions were outstanding.
"If the rescue effort last night had not been successful we could well be dealing with a tragic loss of life," he said.
Davies said it was "another near death experience for some naive tourists" and an "almost identical situation" to events that unfolded at the beach earlier this month.
On February 5, police said a 22-year-old French man and 28-year-old Austrian woman were caught in a rip at the Wharariki Beach.
The pair were trying to swim to one of the Archway Islands, but had to be rescued after being swept 750 metres out to sea.
They were in the water for about 30 minutes before scrambling onto the western-most island.