A strong wave surge has been blamed for killing a 60-year-old woman while she was walking along Shoal Bay Beach in Port Stephens at the weekend.
The woman, understood to be from Londonderry in Sydney's west, was reportedly walking along the west end of the beach when she was knocked unconscious by a shore-dumping wave.
It is believed the tourist was dragged out by the wave and drowned.
Paramedics were sent about 8.30am on Saturday after the woman was pulled unconscious from the surf.
They tried to revive the woman but she died at the scene.
Reports suggest the woman may have lost her shoe and had been trying to retrieve it when she was struck.
Despite sleepy Shoal Bay's reputation for calm waters, the spot at the west end of the beach is known among locals as a notorious spot during wave surges because of a combination of steep sand and shore dumpers.
The Newcastle Herald has learnt paramedics have been called in the past to beach-goers injured there during heavy surf.
Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents' Association president Terry Wall has lived in Shoal Bay for three years and said he understood how such an accident could happen.
"There were some big swells on Saturday," he said.
"In a period like this, especially at high tide, if there's a consistent swell coming in the heads it can be a big crashing wave."
The regular walker said he could recall walking along that section of Shoal Bay Beach, thinking he was on the high water mark, then having to "bolt up the hill" to escape an unexpected surge.
"It's a swell coming towards the beach so you don't get any warning," he said.
Mike Shaw has lived in Shoal Bay for 23 years and is on the Shoal Bay Beach Preservation Committee.
He said the beach sand drops off steeply under the water line along that stretch of beach, and when combined with shore dumpers it could catch tourists unaware.
"On Saturday it was fairly obvious there were shore dumpers, I wouldn't call it freak."
Mr Shaw said weather conditions were sending surges into the port all the way through to Corlette, which when combined with shore-dumping waves was more dangerous.
The shore-dumping waves were also popular with body board riders, he said, who could get injured on the steep sand bank.
However, he said Shoal Bay was still safer than nearby spots such as Zenith Beach.
On Saturday southerly winds at Nelson Bay measured 20kmh.