It was a picture-perfect day at Northland's iconic 90 Mile Beach and there were no signs of record-breaking drug seizures as the waves rolled ashore.
As the news spread yesterday that police had seized a whopping 448kg of methamphetamine on Sunday - and a further 46kg found buried yesterday in bags on 90 Mile Beach - locals at the seaside settlement were not surprised their piece of paradise had been used as a gateway for a major drug importation operation.
"It's crazy. I mean, we have people up here that do that stuff (methamphetamine), but this..." one said.
"They've stuffed up. You'd think they would have know what do do, with that much money (at stake). But na, they screwed themselves."
A woman in Kaitaia said the community were with the arrests.
"Those pipe smokers can go away. We don't need that here. I've seen enough of that in my life... It's not good."
Police investigating the seizure of the drugs, which have an estimated street value of $494 million, have revealed that those involved in bringing the massive amount of methamphetamine ashore may have had two attempts.
The news comes as a fourth man has been arrested over the bust. The 25 year-old man, who was arrested in Auckland, will appear in the Manukau District Court this morning, charged with importing class A drugs and possession for supply of a class A drug.
Detective Inspector Kevin Burke said the public had fed through information to police that some men had tried to launch a large boat off the beach at Ahipara a few days earlier, claiming they were going to spread ashes off the beach.
However, the sea conditions and large boat meant they were unable to launch and they returned to Auckland.
Locals had also sent them packing, telling the men they needed permission to spread ashes.
It is believed the men paid $98,000 cash for another boat - a rigid inflatable - and returned for a second attempt on Sunday.
However the boat ended up coming ashore near Huketere, some distance from where the boat trailer had been left after launching from Ahipara. Calls from locals also contributed to a series of events that saw 448kg of meth found in a camper van on Sunday, and more meth found in sand dunes the next day.
Mr Burke said police were still establishing the source of the methamphetamine and its destination within New Zealand.
Locals told the Northern Advocate there was regular suspicious activity on the west coast involving boats, although police said this was the first time they had received enough information to result in a seizure and arrests.
"This has been the result of the community identifying suspicious behaviour and bringing it to the attention of police, combined with some excellent community policing," Mr Burke said.
Ahipara resident Steve Courtenay said the west coast was a huge stretch of coastline that was mostly unpoliced and an easy target for criminals to exploit.
"But to use the west coast you have to know what you are doing, because the surf conditions are pretty dangerous."
Mr Courtenay had been walking his dog on Ahipara golf course when he noticed a police officer talking with two men in a four-wheel drive vehicle in the carpark about 3pm on Sunday.
He then saw the two men in the back of another police vehicle and the four-wheel drive being towed away.
Another local, who did not want to be named, claimed the seizure was only "the tip of the iceberg".
He said during summer there were regular patrols by Hercules planes but, in winter, anyone could access the coast undetected. "There is always suspicious activity late at night involving boats. It's always a topic of conversation round here about what they are up to.
"This time it seems there was enough information to get them."
Ahipara surfer Mike Venney praised the police and said the seizure meant the drugs would not make it into circulation and harm Northland communities.
Ahipara local Rueben Taipari said it was shocking to hear such a massive amount of meth had been seized in Ahipara.
"We're just a small community, so to have something like this happen in our backyard is a real shock. It's something you expect to see on the movies, but meth is in our community, we're not innocent."
Mr Taipari said he was made aware of a meth problem in Ahipara about 10 years ago and said the community had been trying to tackle it at a local level.
He said it was "positive" to hear observant locals had called police after noticing the occupants of several vehicles acting suspiciously in the area for the past fortnight, and trying to launch boats off the west coast.
"That's definitely a good step. The industry needs to be destroyed and we work hard in the community to do that. We need to lock all away who are involved."
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