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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Auckland’s West Coast Beaches had a bad week

Two drownings at Piha and a fatal shark attack at Muriwai a couple of weeks ago might tend to suggest that Auckland’s West Coast beaches are a place to avoid. No such thing.

Shark attacks are rare in New Zealand. There have only been 11 fatal attacks since 1852 – and this in a country where swimming in the sea is a popular recreation.

Piha Piha Beach


But the drownings are a different story. West Coast beaches, and Piha in particular, have dangerous rips, the currents created by water flowing back out to sea. After a wave breaks on the shore, the water has to return to sea. The resulting current is called a rip. If you get caught in it you will be swept along with it.

The drownings occurred when three men went swimming at night, fully clothed (and wearing jeans!) and chose to swim in a strong rip close to Piha’s Lion Rock. Even for a strong swimmer that would be risky. These guys had no chance. They were gone before the lifeguards could turn to and rescue them.

Their fate underlies the importance, especially for overseas visitors unfamiliar with ocean beaches, to be extremely cautious when swimming in the sea.

Ideally you should swim on a patrolled beach – and always, always swim between the flags. Idiots go away from the patrolled area because they want to get away from the crowds. Not knowing the ways of the sea they choose to swim in an area of calm water.  That smooth water is a death trap. That’s a rip. They get into difficulties and it can be several critical minutes before their plight is reported and longer for the lifeguards to race down the beach and come to their aid.

Then my three daughters, a 21-year-old and two 15-year-olds, all lifeguards at North Piha, have to race into the surf ,  putting their own lives on the line, to rescue them.

To find out more about Auckland and its beaches go to my travel site  New Zealand Travel Guide .