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
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 .