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Kelsi Wood got into trouble at Kaipara's Baylys Beach around 5.45pm on Thursday, after going in to save her daughter caught in a strong rip. Her child received minor injuries.
Kelsi's mother, Susan Fowlie, told Stuff she was a hero who gave her life to save her child.
"She was full of vibrance and had an 'I can do this' attitude. She gave everything her very best, right to the end. We will miss her more than words can say."
She remembered her daughter and amazing mother and friend, who was loved by many.
A Givealittle page has been set up to help friends and family of the "devoted super mum" pay for funeral costs.
"Kelsi was working at Dargaville Kindergarten where she was loved by the children, parents and colleagues, known for her infectious bubbly personality and her devotion to her friends and family," the page said.
The remaining money is to go towards the three children's future schooling needs.
It has already raised over $17,000 in two days.
Dargaville Primary School shared condolences to Wood's family and friends online.
"It has been a difficult day for staff who have had the challenging role of communicating this tragic incident with their children," the school shared on Friday.
Grieving friends have paid tribute online to the mum with an "infectious laugh".
"You are so brave hun, an absolute hero," wrote one friend.
"100% you saved your baby girl, but we wouldn't expect anything less from you."
Another friend said she was "honoured" to have been Kelsi's friend.
"Kelsi changed my life...will miss her and her wicked sense of humour beyond all words."
Another friend said Wood's death would leave a big gap.
"Kelsi a great young mum always bright and bubbly no matter what was happening."
In an earlier statement police said: ''This is an absolute tragedy and Police's deepest sympathies are with the woman's family.''
The matter will be referred to the Coroner.
The Tasman Sea batters Baylys Beach and the surf is notoriously dangerous. A number of people have died at the beach.
Dylan Robinson, 13, of Henderson, West Auckland, drowned in August 2012, at the beach and two people drowned there in one week in January and February 2006 - 46-year-old Alexander Stewart and Kevan Moore.
The beach is patrolled over parts of the summer by lifeguards and lifeguards there are waiting for new facilities to be built.