Axle Hamblyn is likely the most talked-about toddler in New Zealand.
He’s the 3-year-old boy who went missing from his home on Paroa Rd near Tolaga Bay on Tuesday, to be found kilometres away 19 hours later.
He was only wearing a T-shirt, a nappy, and gumboots but survived a 7C night in the bush alone.
Today he is back home and reunited with family, drinking fizzy and eating a mince pie after heading back up State Highway 35 from Gisborne Hospital this morning.
Wearing a new camouflage bush shirt given to him by hospital staff for his next adventure, Axle said he was feeling “good”.
And with the help of his mother he had a message for New Zealand: “Thank you everybody for helping find me.”
The toddler suffered no major injuries, coming away from the ordeal with only a few scratches and bumps on his legs.
Axle’s mother Haley Allatt struggled to describe how it felt when she realised he was gone.
“It was like my soul left me. It was just like, I don’t know how to explain it, the worst feeling in the world … knowing that you may never ever see him again,” she said.
“He was just there in the orchard or playing outside and he’s gone.”
Before he disappeared, Axle told his mother, who was inside with their young child, who is 5 months old, he was playing with a dog called Bro.
When Allatt later headed out to find Axle and discovered he wasn’t where he had been or with his dad, her heart sank.
They tried searching the surrounding area, climbing hills and trudging through bush shouting for Axle with bribes of McDonald’s if he’d make a sound — he loves McDonald’s.
The police were contacted a short time later and arrived at the property soon after.
“I was literally crying from the moment he disappeared until the moment he was found. When he was found I was a mess,” Allatt said.
Word had also got out of Axle’s disappearance and before long, hundreds of volunteers from the community descended upon the property.
Tolaga Bay volunteer firefighter Dion Milner was among them and said Axle had gone missing in hard country.
“There were big holes from where they had been logging and the grass had grown over. I was falling into holes up to my waist,” he said.
“It was pretty dense, pretty thick stuff. It was rugged country.”
The family, who had been homeless since January, were in emergency housing for a month and even lived in tents in Gisborne for a time, and had only been in the Tolaga Bay area for about a month.
Allatt was surprised people who “didn’t know us from a bar of soap” rallied around them.
Milner said that was typical of Tolaga Bay.
“This is who we are. This is a real tight-knit community,” he said.
“When something happens like someone goes missing, the people want families to be reunited with their loved ones.”
Despite the efforts of the hundreds of volunteers, a rescue helicopter and a police dog unit, the search was called off late on Tuesday evening.
Allatt did not expect to see her bubbly son ever again.
However, the next day about 10.45am, Axle was found by a Tolaga Bay resident on the face of a hill in rough terrain around 3 to 4km from his home.
Gisborne man Gareth Hailey was looking for the boy with a search party when one of them heard Axle calling out. After he was discovered, he said, the boy started calling for his mother.
“He was just wanting his mum,” Hailey said. “All he was asking for was his mum!”
The family were overwhelmed by the support the community had shown them.
Yesterday, Axle’s dad Glenn said he couldn’t put into words how he felt.
“There were hundreds of people searching, some people were even jumping into the river at 10.30pm (on Tuesday) looking for him,” he said.
“If I had to put (how we are feeling) into a sentence it’d be that I wish every community in New Zealand was like this. They were amazing.”
Allatt said having her son back was the best feeling in the world.
“When he came up the driveway everyone was hard-out clapping. I tried to pull him out through the car window to give him a hug,” she said.
Axle and Allatt got out of hospital this morning around 9am and said strangers were congratulating them.
“I went to Pak’nSave to get a few things for the baby and everyone was saying ‘the famous Axle’, shaking his hand, calling him a survivor and saying how cool that he’s okay,” she said.
“It was really cool and everywhere we go now people are smiling and waving.”
Allatt said it was not in Axle’s nature to go walkabout, saying he normally hangs around the house.
The family had no plans over the next week, however, Allatt said she’d be having a drink tonight after a stressful few days and that’d she’ll keep a close eye on Axle.
“I’m going to keep him in my eyesight.”
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