A group of visitors to the Bay of Islands will go home with a travel tale worth bragging about after a close encounter with a pod of orca.

Passengers on the Fullers GreatSights catamaran Dolphin Seeker were returning from a cruise to Hole in the Rock about noon yesterday when they spotted about a dozen orca just south of Urupukapuka Island's Otehei Bay.

The family group included large males, females, juveniles and a calf about 6 months old.

Crew member Lawrence Hamilton said the pod was feeding on stingrays. At one stage a group of orca surfaced right next to the boat to devour a freshly caught stingray.

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Two hammerhead sharks were also in the area, with the orca appearing to chase one of the sharks under the vessel. The crew stopped the boat while the orca played and fed nearby for about 20 minutes, he said.

It was one of the best orca encounters he had experienced.

"The passengers were dumbfounded, they were amazed. They were very, very lucky," Mr Hamilton said.

Conditions for the 36 international visitors on the cruise were perfect with calm seas and sunshine.