Peter Apaapa spent his life helping others, his grieving family says.
So it's no surprise to them that the man who had become a grandfather for the first time only weeks ago lost his life doing the same thing.
The 54-year-old Tauranga father drowned after he went to help his son and nephew at Te Puna beach, near Tauranga, on Friday. The children, Peter Junior, and Cotton Tai, both 11, survived.
Apaapa's wife Kahui was too upset to speak last night, but her sister Reihana Rolleston said the family considered Apaapa a hero.
Apaapa and his wife rushed to the children's rescue when they became caught in the current during a family trip to gather pipi.
Rolleston said: "He pushed the boys to her and she got them but she couldn't grab him. The sea just took him."
Police, the Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter and Tauranga Coastguard launched a search for Apaapa.
His body was found in Tauranga Harbour about 1 hours after the search began.
Apaapa was a strong swimmer who may have become exhausted while helping the children. But the family were still stunned that he could drown at a beach where he had been swimming all his life.
Apaapa's brother Nick said he had been collecting shellfish at the beach since he was a child. "We knew that beach like the palm of our hands," he said.
Apaapa, who had six siblings, was known for his gentleness and helpful nature, said Nick.
"He and Kahui always helped a lot of people. Even though I am the older brother he was always there for me."
Apaapa's eldest son Justin, his partner and their newborn baby - his first grandchild - also witnessed the tragedy.
His daughter Grace is travelling from Perth as the family gather for his tangi at the family marae.