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The man who found missing preschooler Axle says the three-year-old boy was "very disorientated and calling out to his mum".
The searcher, who gave his name as Peter, told TVNZ it was an emotional moment when he realised he had found the Tolaga Bay boy.
"I'm just a stranger to him but I just said to him that his mum was looking for him.
"He had tears to his eyes, brought tears to my eyes, but all he wanted was his mum and he was a pretty strong young fella."
Axle told his rescuer he had slept in the dark and had not been scared, Peter told TVNZ.
"Having children of my own, that's a parent that doesn't want to go through that sort of nightmare."
Axle's mum: 'I can't thank the search and rescuers enough'
Axle was found "safe and well" this morning after a 21-hour ordeal, about 4km from his home.
His first food in 21 hours was a ham sandwich and ambulance staff checked him over.
His delighted mother said: "It's a big relief, I can't thank the search and rescuers enough."
With his mum's nose touching his - Axle could be seen with a little grin on his face.
He was still wearing the blue gumboots described when the missing person alert was issued yesterday.
A family member of a volunteer posted the little boy was okay and tucking into some food inside his house. Volunteers were still gathered outside.
"He's alright whānau he's having a kai."
A photo shared on social media revealed the moment search and rescuers realised the boy had been found alive.
"Over 100 search and rescue volunteers cheered as the crew that found him made their way up the driveway."
Police confirmed Axle was discovered "safe and well" at 10.45am and had now been reunited with his family.
"Police would like to thank everyone who offered their assistance in searching for him."
The search had continued before first light today after he went missing yesterday.
Volunteers - including a local rugby team - had met police this morning to resume the search.
Between 40 and 50 volunteers plus Land Search and Rescue staff and air support resumed searching this morning, police said.
A small dog named Bro which Axle had been playing with when he went missing from the Paroa Rd property returned alone yesterday afternoon, sparking fears for the little boy's safety.
The dog's owner, Damon Jeffrey, had earlier posted on social media that the white fluffy dog came home about 4pm - three hours after he disappeared with the boy.
Jeffrey said his dog always responded to his call - but this time despite him yelling and whistling for hours he did not.
"There's no way he couldn't hear me calling him. The only reason he wouldn't have come straight back is if something was wrong. And to come back alone really worries me."
They tried to take the dog back out in the hope he would lead them to the boy, but too many searchers were around so the dog became excited and didn't help, he posted.