Gus Hutt was at the beach checking his fishing lines at about 7:15 a.m. on October 26 when he spotted the 18-month-old boy and reached out and grabbed his arm.
A fisherman happened to be in the right place at the right time late last month when he plucked what he thought was a doll from the ocean at Matata Beach.
The child was 18-month-old Malachi Reeve, who had managed to unzip the door of his family's tent and wander onto the beach while his parents slept.
Murphy's Holiday Camp co-owner Rebecca Salter told The Associated Press that the rescue was "miraculous and fateful" after Hutt, a regular at the campground, had made a decision to fish at a different spot than usual and the sea had been particularly calm.
According to Jessica Whyte, the toddler's mother, who also spoke to the New Zealand Herald, she was awoken around 7:30 a.m. with the news that her son had been floating in the sea and said it was "horrible in between hearing that and seeing him".
Gus Hutt spotted a wee boy floating motionlessly across the water when he was fishing at Matata beach.
Hutt said he first thought the baby was a porcelain doll before he pulled the infant out of the water. "He was bloody lucky but he just wasn't meant to go".
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"My husband came around the corner with the baby in his arms", she said. Malachi had pulled the zip up on their tent while they were sleeping and crawled out before going down to the beach.
He said if he had checked his line a minute later he would not have seen him.
But after treatment from paramedics he was given the all clear and Whyte said he was unaffected by his ordeal.
The child was initially treated by local emergency services before being taken by ambulance to Whakatane Hospital. "It's the first time they've been here", Rebecca Salter, the co-owner of Murphy's Holiday Camp, recently told BBC. "Put them on a padlock", she said.
"It's a freakish miracle", she added.
When he was returned to his parents he received medical attention. Police briefly attended the scene but said they were not taking any further action.
"He was wriggling trying to get down to have a look at everything, he was just a lovely, cheeky little fella".