Lifeguard support needed to avoid drownings
If New Zealand wants more tourists to enjoy its beaches this summer then the Tourism Ministry needs to invest in more lifeguards to keep them safe, says New Zealand's lifeguard of the year.
Hot Water Beach lifeguard Gary Hinds said images of Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach on brochures bring tourists to the Coromandel by the busload, but no support is given to the lifeguards to look after them.
"We get people straight off the plane, straight down to Hot Water Beach with no understanding of water safety and [the ministry is] not willing to putting anything into looking after people after they get them here," Mr Hinds said.
Mr Hinds was named Lifeguard of the Year by Surf Life Saving New Zealand in recognition of his dedication to his beach. He clocked up more than 500 hours' work on his way to the award.
Funding from the Thames Coromandel District Council, Tourism Coromandel and local business pays for seven regional guards for the approaching peak season - up from five last year - but he said it is barely enough.
"We are right on the edge. If we didn't have the volunteers we would be really stretched."
Mr Hinds said a road count was done two years ago with 25,000 cars coming to the area.
"The numbers probably doubled last year. You can have 75,000 plus people coming to the beach in a 10 day period," he said.
"That doesn't take into the six or seven bus loads a day that come in."
The Hot Water Beach patrols take the water safety message to the tour buses before arriving at the beach to inform travellers of the risks they are likely to face.
Even then, of the 110 people rescued last season most of them were tourists and many did not speak English.
"I would have though it was somewhere up to 80 per cent and probably 50 per cent of them wouldn't be English-speaking."
Mr Hinds said Hot Water Beach is not dangerous but there are risks there and people needed to be aware of them.
"We would rather have the funding where we are just able to go and talk to them and do preventative action."
He wants to see more education for tourists who are visiting New Zealand's beaches so tragedies don't occur.
"It is a good place to swim but it is just a lack of understanding and respect for the ocean that catches them out."
Hot Water Beach is a key tourist destination for overseas travellers and New Zealanders alike. Mr Hinds said he would like to see guards at every low tide to patrol the beach.
"At the end of the day if we have a couple of drownings here it is not going to look good for tourism in New Zealand," he said. "It's all about working together."
With the summer months firmly upon us Mr Hinds said visitors to Hot Water Beach should swim between the flags at all times and ask for assistance from the lifeguards on patrol.
"They are more than happy to answer your questions. The guards are there to be talked to."
BEACH SAFETY TIPS
Swim between the flags.
Beware of rocks.
Never stand on a rock outcrop that is already wet.
Never turn your back on the sea.
Beware of calm patches in surf and rippled or criss-crossed water.
Do not panic if in trouble.
IF IN TROUBLE
Float on your back.
Raise your hand.
Wait until the rip stops moving before swimming.
Source: Surf Life Saving New Zealand, www.surflifesaving.org.nz