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A large part of New Zealand’s natural beauty is our ever-inviting beaches and waterways. We’re a nation that loves to swim in the great outdoors, be it in the sea, rivers or lakes, but beautiful swimming holes and beaches can also be deadly if not treated with the utmost respect. Read on to learn how to stay safe each time you take to the NZ waters.
What are the dangers of swimming at New Zealand beaches?
On Aotearoa’s beaches, the most common hazards are waves, wind, tides and what we call a rip. A rip is a channel of water with a strong current heading out to sea. Rips can be difficult to spot, so before you go in the water, look out for the following:
Rips are extremely dangerous because they drag swimmers out to sea. People usually panic when they are grabbed by a rip and attempt to swim back to shore, fighting against the strong current. They then get into real trouble when they become too exhausted to stay afloat.
How to swim safely at New Zealand beaches
Luckily for New Zealanders and our international visitors, Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) is a huge part of our beach culture. SLSNZ is made up of 17,000 dedicated members who patrol more than 80 of our busiest beaches every summer, keeping swimmers safe in the surf.
To make life easier for these voluntary guardians of the sea, consider these points before you take the plunge:
What are the dangers of swimming in New Zealand rivers and lakes?
Like our beaches, NZ’s rivers and lakes have their own set of dangers, but they aren’t patrolled and many of their most dangerous hazards are hidden beneath the surface. As such, drownings in NZ rivers are more common than in any other water environment.
Rivers can have strong currents that sometimes aren’t obvious until it’s too late. The pressure created by the moving water is constant and can be quite powerful even if the river looks to be calm and moving slowly. Paying close attention to the way the water is moving before you enter it is very important and can even save your life.
The bottom of a river or lake will not be a consistent surface like a swimming pool or the sea. It can instead be very irregular and littered with rocks, boulders, logs, ledges and debris. This is especially relevant when jumping into the water from height.
Floods frequently play a part in river swimming accidents, as the fast-flowing water can change the banks of the river, making them unstable and prone to collapsing. Floods can also carry large rocks, logs and other debris into a swimming hole that was previously clear of hazards. This is why checking a swimming spot thoroughly at the start of each visit is so important to your safety.
Another factor to consider before taking a dip in a kiwi river or lake is the quality of the water. Water quality can be a problem in some places and below acceptable standards for humans to swim in. Heavy rain affects this and you can find more information out by using the resource below.
How to swim safely in New Zealand rivers and lakes
A careful and thoughtful approach is what’s required to safely swim in rivers and lakes in New Zealand, especially considering the lack of patrols and signage at most swimming holes. Use these steps as a guide:
Have fun in the water!
While New Zealand’s waterways need to be treated with respect, you can still enjoy swimming if you make the right decisions and take precautions. We have world-class surf breaks, white- and volcanic-sand beaches, and rivers that are so picturesque you’ll never want to leave. So, come on down, and don’t forget your togs!