Shorty was the first to go. We'd been hanging about in the water for about 20 minutes waiting for the TV crew to finish their interviews and take their final pictures before he was released into the clear waters of the Poor Knights Marine Reserve, just north of Whangarei. Then he was off. Only, he wasn't.
To the surprise and delight of the dozens of snorkellers, swimmers and underwater camera crew, Shorty, a young hawksbill turtle, didn't speed away, never to be seen again. Instead, he bobbed around with his admiring entourage staring on, casually swimming a short distance to nose around the kelp and teeming fish life that lay between Dive Tutukaka's Perfect Day boat and the towering cliffs of the Poor Knights Islands.
At first we kept our distance then, realising Shorty seemed to like the attention (or at least wasn't bothered by it) younger snorkellers moved closer and gently stroked his shell.
The delight on the kids' faces was evident. It was equalled by looks on the faces of the mums and dads, the granddads and the grandmas and the host of young 20-somethings, many employed by Dive Tutukaka who'd taken a day off to witness the turtles' first flap back to freedom.
Up from Auckland, we'd managed to escape the kids for the weekend and were keen to revisit the Poor Knights, one of the top dive sites in the world.
But our diving was rusty and we weren't prepared to give up a rare lie-in for Dive Tutukaka's more famous two-dive day trip, so the Perfect Day snorkelling excursion - setting off at the more reasonable hour of 11am - seemed, well, perfect. Then when a staff member mentioned the folk from Auckland's marine aquarium Kelly Tarlton's were releasing three rescued sea turtles that day, it was a done deal.
Shorty, a bigger hawksbill called Ron, named after the Auckland Rescue guy who helicoptered him back from 90 Mile Beach, and a green sea turtle, Noggin, were all released after a year of being nursed back to health at Kelly Tarlton's.
Shorty had been found in Waitemata Harbour, so tightly bound in rope and fishing nets his shell was deformed. Ron and Noggin had been found dehydrated and undernourished after ingesting too much plastic. Noggin also had a nasty head wound, probably caused by a boat as he bobbed on the surface, unable to dive because of the plastic in his stomach.
It was a sad tale, but one with a happy ending. Ron zoomed off - the more expected response - but Noggin simply cruised away to find his own patch of kelp.
The rest of us bobbed around, following the turtles where we could; spotting schools of huge snapper, blue maomao and a myriad of other fish; and investigating the trillions of tentacle-waving red sea anemones covering the cliff walls and caves.
Then it was back on the boat for a sandwich, a cuppa soup and a hot chocolate - the injection of warmth welcomed by many of us who'd opted not to pay extra to hire a wetsuit.
The Dive Tutukaka crew kept up the banter as we kayaked; took our first wobbly goes on paddle boards and then chugged off to learn more about the Islands and pass under the magnificent Southern Arch - all the while keeping a beady look-out for just one more glimpse of Shorty, Ron or Noggin.
Need to know
Dive Tutukaka's Perfect Day snorkelling excursion to the Poor Knights Marine Reserve runs from November to May. It's a 23km open-ocean trip to the islands and all the snorkelling, kayaking and paddleboarding equipment is included. The trip costs $169 a person ($85 for kids) and includes a tour of the islands, lunch, non-stop tea and coffee and a visit to the world's largest sea cave. For more information check out: aperfectday.co.nz