The toddler who braved a night in the cold bush near Tolaga Bay has been hailed by a top cop involved in his search as a "little hero".
In Tolaga Bay yesterday morning, there were tears and cheers of joy as three-year-old Axle Hambleyn was reunited with his mum and dad.
On Tuesday afternoon, the boy wandered away from his rural home in Mangatuna with his neighbour's dog.
Later that afternoon, the dog returned without him — his owner was sure the dog came to raise the alarm.
A search began throughout the night to no avail.
However, just before 11am yesterday, roughly 21 hours after he went missing, Axle was found — wearing only a t-shirt, nappy and gumboots.
He was in miraculously good condition after spending the night in an area, which dropped to 6 degrees Celcius overnight.
Gisborne Police Inspector Sam Aberahama this morning told Breakfast the search for Axle was "up and down for a period of time".
"Yes, we do have cool nights and that was a real concern," he said.
"There's only one place for a three-year-old, and that's with their mum, so just imagine how he felt when it got dark and he was alone. He was hungry, very anxious and he had to spend the night on his own.
"I think he's just a little hero, the little man. Fantastic."
Aberahama said there was "absolute elevation" when he heard the news the youngster had been found.
He also thanked the whole Tairāwhiti community involved in the search, including many who took the day off work.
"We've got to debrief this but, you know, we can't not acknowledge the outcome. Fantastic effort everyone, love you all."