Former Rotorua man Simon Rooke said there was something very special about his latest deployment as Commanding Officer of the HMNZS Canterbury.
Kawerau-born Mr Rooke, who spent his high school years at Rotorua Boys' High School before joining the navy in 1991, said he and his crew aboard the Canterbury worked tirelessly for about six days helping locals and tourists after the Kaikoura earthquake.
The Canterbury was in Auckland celebrating the Navy's 75th anniversary when it was deployed to help.
The ship left port at 11pm on the Monday of the quake, and made "best speed" averaging 18 knots, arriving off Kaikoura at 7am on the Wednesday morning.
HMNZS Wellington had arrived earlier and was surveying approaches making sure there was a safe place to land crew members.
By the Wednesday night the Canterbury had taken 449 people back to Lyttelton before loading about 215 tonnes of relief supplies, including water, pumps, generators and port-a-loos, before heading back to Kaikoura and picking up another 194 quake refugees.
"We were pulling 20 to 22 hour days for the first few days there," he said.
The ship has been moored in Lyttelton since Sunday where the crew have taken some much needed rest after resupplying and doing maintenance work.
Mr Rooke said they will be stationed there in case of further aftershocks or other issues where their help would be required.
"Since the road has been opened up and is the current supply route we are waiting, just in case.
"The last day or so has been a great chance to take a breath.
"Everyone on board worked incredibly hard in the five to six day period, but nothing was too much of a problem for our team.
"It's been an amazing time."
He said normally the Canterbury could take a maximum of 243 passengers and 123 crew.
He said his crew had plenty of experience in disaster relief, during Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu in 2015 and earlier this year in Fiji after Cyclone Winston, but this was the first time they had to help New Zealanders in New Zealand.
"It's slightly different, but the principles are the same.
"We have not had that many people on board before, there was no stopping the crew during the operation.
"There was a special edge to this as it was the New Zealand Navy sent to help our fellow Kiwis.
"The people there were extremely grateful...we had people on the cargo deck sleeping on gym mats, we were feeding them and making sure they were all looked after."
He said people taken on board were obviously stressed, but relieved to be out of the quake zone.
Mr Rooke lives in Auckland with his wife Corenna and their two daughters.
Commander Simon Rooke
- Born in Kawerau
- Attended Rotorua Boys' High School
- Joined the navy in 1991
- Made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1997 in recognition of his leadership and performance as HMNZS Canterbury's Boarding Officer in the Arabian Gulf
- Given command of HMNZS Kahu in 2000
- Numerous international postings, including Afghanistan, Timor Leste and Bougainville
- Awarded the Chief of Navy Commendation in 2008
- Assumed command of HMNZS Canterbury November, 2014