Two childhood mates who spent four hours in a chilly Lake Taupo without lifejackets refused to believe they would not survive.
Joshua Johnson and Neihana Tawera, both 21, of Turangi, kept telling each other not to give up as they clung to gear bags to float after their new dinghy capsized.
Search-and-rescue crews who helped find the men have described their survival in the 13-degree water as a miracle.
The maximum survival time treading water between 10 and 15 Celsius is considered to be two to four hours. Exhaustion and unconsciousness set in between one to two hours.
"I wasn't going to give in, nor was Neihana; we just keep saying to each other, 'Bro, we're just about there, don't give up'," Johnson, a chef, said as he recovered at his Turangi home yesterday.
"We were encouraging each other all the time, telling each other we nearly [were at the shore], but in fact we were not really getting anywhere.
"I knew in my head I would get to shore; I knew I was just not going to give up, and nor was Neihana."
The pair had "excitedly" launched their four-metre aluminium dinghy about 2pm on Tuesday. It was the first time the pair - friends since they were 5 - had been in a boat on their own.
They were dressed only in light clothing and did not think about taking lifejackets, said Johnson, an asthmatic.
"We just wanted to get out there; the lake was smooth and we thought we would cruise around the bays."
They went in and out of the small bays near Waihi Village until the sun began to go down, then headed back to Tokaanu.
"The wind was getting up and it was getting very choppy; waves were piling into the boat."
Unknown to them, the boat had taken on water, which filled the stern, causing the bow to point upwards. "We knew we just had to get out of there: it was getting pretty scary."
As they went to swap positions, a wave caught them, capsizing the boat and throwing them both into the water.
Each time they tried to right the boat, it would flip upside down again. "We were pretty terrified, we just looked at each other and thought what should we do?"
They tried to paddle the boat back to shore, about 300 metres away, but it was hopeless. Finding it hard to keep afloat without lifejackets, they retrieved gear bags from the boat to use as flotation.
For the next two hours they clung to the boat, then decided to head for shore. But they spent another two hours clinging to their bags, going nowhere.
"The bags saved us, they kept us afloat," Johnson said.
"We were really scared and we were both having our moments; a couple of times we nearly broke down, thinking we may not make it.
"We just kept helping each other, telling each other we're going to get there.
"We both didn't want to die like this, but we didn't know if anyone was coming to help us.
"I remember just looking up at the sky and kicking towards the shore. I wasn't really with it and Neihana grabbed me and guided me towards the shore."
About 8.30pm the Taupo rescue helicopter crew spotted the pair using a searchlight and night-vision goggles, about 200 metres from the boat.
"We could see them circling the boat with the lights," Johnson said. "We were yelling as hard as we can but we knew they couldn't hear us."
Tawera, a Conservation Department worker, waved his small headlight to get pilot Nat Every's attention.
"I knew then I was going to get home," Johnson said. "I think we could have gone on longer but really we probably only had another 30 minutes left.
"We're both strong swimmers, and we have a bit of extra meat around us, which helped."
Both men were treated for hypothermia. Johnson was discharged from Taupo Hospital the same night, and Neihana from Rotorua Hospital yesterday.
Lake Taupo harbourmaster Phillip King said he would talk to the men about not having lifejackets - an offence punishable by an instant $200 fine.
"It is frustrating when people continue not to have lifejackets when they go out on the lake," King said. "It's really beyond belief these guys lived. If it wasn't for the search and rescue people, they would not be here today."