Tight-knit coastal town in mourning after Boxing Day death

A tight-knit coastal town is mourning the loss of a “well respected” local who died in a water-related incident on Boxing Day.

A rāhui has now been placed on the coastline at Cape Runaway, east of Ōpōtiki, as the drowning toll over the Christmas-New Year holiday period mounts.

Waihau Bay resident Jim Kemp was pulled from the water on Monday evening and given medical assistance. However, he died at the scene.

The police and ambulance were alerted at 7.12pm about the water-related incident at Cape Runaway.

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There was no information available on how the incident occurred, police said in a statement.

Following Jim’s death, Te Whānau-A-Pararaki hapū placed a rāhui from Ngutuone (Waiokaha Stream) to Mangatoetoe Stream, restricting the collection – diving and fishing – of kaimoana inside hapū borders.

This covers the area from Raukokore School to Midway which is between Lottin Point and Hicks Bay.

A close family member said “the family was dealing with the sudden death” and did not want to comment further.

The Waihau Bay Fishing Club’s Christmas Tournament, which was scheduled from December 27 to January 3, has been postponed to a later date in January.


Stay away from rocks and rips at the beach over summer, surf lifesavers say. (Video first published in November 2019.)

In a Facebook post, the club reminded everyone of the rahui and mentioned Kemp as a “well respected community man and life member of the Fishing Club”.

“The boat ramp will close at 5pm [Tuesday] and reopen on January 6th. Please show respect to the family and the community at this time,” read the post.

Ōpōtiki District deputy mayor Shona Browne said the close-knit community would be very upset with the incident.

“They take pride in keeping an eye on each other and also visitors to the area … they would absolutely be devastated by the incident.

“My sympathies are with the family and everyone concerned.”

Ōpōtiki deputy mayor Shona Browne said the close-knit community would be very upset with the incident.


Ōpōtiki deputy mayor Shona Browne said the close-knit community would be very upset with the incident.

Browne said while “no time is a good time for this sort of thing to happen, Christmas is always a sad time for it”.

“It is supposed to be happy time, a family time.”

With regard to the water safety, Browne said “everyone should take every possible precaution that you can to be safe in the water and in the event of an accident.

Kemp was one of the three people who died in water-related incidents over the span of five hours from Boxing Day into Tuesday morning.

At 9.30pm, a person was pulled from a body of water in Pukekohe and attempts to resuscitate them failed.

Shortly after midnight a swimmer died in the Hutt River in Kaitoke Regional Park. They failed to resurface during a swim, a police spokesperson said.

“The swimmer was recovered from the water and medical attention was administered, however tragically they were pronounced dead at the scene,” they said.

Meanwhile, on Christmas Day a canoeist died on a Christchurch lake.

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Daniel Gerrard said drownings were usually a combination of people “behaving badly” and adverse conditions.

Last year’s festive holiday drowning figures were the worst in 40 years.

“First and foremost is men behaving badly. Over 80% of all fatalities are men and they are generally over 50 years old,” he said.

“Last holiday period there were 14 fatalities and that’s from 4pm on Christmas Eve through until 6am on January 4,” Gerrard said.

In 2022, half of the drowning fatalities occurred while people were swimming, out on the water in a boat over 4m long and as a result of a fall into the water.

Gerrard said some measures could be taken to prevent fatal accidents, such as “avoid going out diving by yourself” or wearing a life jacket when fishing on a boat.

Rivers were as deadly as beaches.

“So, have a really good look before you jump in. An easy way to check whether it’s safe is to throw a stick into the river and if you can walk alongside it, then the water is going at a pretty hazard-less flow,” he said.

Men appeared to make the worst decisions when it came to water safety, he said.

“They could be younger men swimming at the beach getting caught in a rip while swimming outside the flags, or Pākeha men over 55 out in boats without a life jacket, or Māori men over 40 diving by themselves while gathering kai, or Asian males over 40 rock fishing.

“Enjoy the beautiful waterways, but please have a think, and make some smart decisions. So everyone comes home this year,” Gerrard said.

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