Better supervision and risk management would have prevented children from being put in danger of drowning on a school trip which went wrong off the Northland coast.

The Tauraroa Area School group was on a kayaking and snorkelling trip at Cave Bay in the Poor Knights Island Marine Reserve, off the coast of Tutukaka, in December 2020.

Two children in a shared kayak capsized in rough swells in a narrow cave. One got her feet trapped in a crevasse and was submerged each time a wave entered the cave. After another student signalled for help, it took 15 minutes to get her to safety. Her rescuer then got stranded on a ledge with the other young kayaker until a rescue helicopter could arrive two hours later.

The school’s Board of Trustees was sentenced today in the Whangārei District Court for its health and safety failures. The trip operator, Dive Tutukaka, is also charged over the incident but has not entered a plea at this stage.

A WorkSafe investigation found the school failed to consider the on-water risks and controls for the trip, and had inadequate supervision in place. More generally, the school did not have an outdoor education safety management system in place for such trips.

“Schools and parents shouldn't view this case as forbidding outdoor education, which is an important part of school life and something we all want to see continue. Students should be able to participate safely and parents must have confidence their tamariki will be kept safe,” says WorkSafe’s area investigation manager, Danielle Henry.

“This incident had all the hallmarks of a drowning in the making. I commend the bravery of the survivors who came forward to give their evidence. They were left traumatised by what happened, and it’s only by extremely good luck that they were able to go home to their whanau,” says Danielle Henry.


  • Tauraroa Area School Board of Trustees was sentenced at the Whangārei District Court on 13 December 2022.
  • Details of the reparations for each of the two victims were suppressed by the Court.
  • Tauraroa Area School Board of Trustees was charged under sections 36(2) and section 48(1) and 2(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
    • Being a PCBU having a duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of other persons was not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking, namely the use of education outside the classroom excursion by boat to Poor Knights Island Marine Reserve with use of snorkelling equipment, kayaks and paddle boards (the excursion), did fail to comply with that duty and that failure exposed individuals to a risk of death, serious injury or serious illness.
  • The maximum penalty is a fine not exceeding $1.5 million.

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