Young waka ama paddlers had a whale of a time and the experience of a lifetime during a training session, when they were joined by a pod of orca on Whangarei Harbour.
The Mitamitaga Waka Ama club members were about to launch off Onerahi boat ramp when about six adult orca and a couple of calves were spotted in the water on Thursday evening.
"The kids were yelling there were dolphins in the water. But looking at the size of the dorsal fins, it was easy to tell they definitely weren't dolphins," coach Shontelle Ferguson said.
The paddlers, who are training for a regatta on the Sunshine Coast next month, ventured on to the water and it was not long before the orca showed an interest in them.
"I told the kids to paddle near the anchored boats near the Onerahi foreshore because it was shallow and I didn't think the orca would come in that close," Miss Ferguson said.
But as she paddled next to her young team, an orca popped up just metres from the bow of the waka.
The sudden appearance of the giant mammal caused some concern among the paddlers, aged 8 and 9. The stroke decided it was a very close encounter and he ducked down inside the waka, while the others let out yelps.
"Once I calmed them down and reassured them, they were all so excited. They realised how special it was and what an experience to have."
It was not long before a crowd gathered on the waterfront at Onerahi to watch the orca. Two small light aircraft and a helicopter also took in the spectacle from above.
Miss Ferguson said it appeared the orca were feeding out in the channel, as they were swirling around as if they were rounding up their prey.
The kids asked for a team name change after the experience, wanting to be called Miti Orcas, not their original name Miti Minions.
Onerahi resident and keen photographer Wendy Giffin said the orca display was spectacular, with them swimming so close to shore.
"I saw the fin, then the spray into the air. Then they were right among the boats."
There were reports of orca being spotted near McLeods Bay earlier in the day.