Fisherman Jack Vallings had a feeling his first fishing mission of the new decade would be a good one.
But what the 33-year-old didn't know was he would have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch a pod of six orca hunting for stingrays in rocks just below his toes at one of his most successful fishing spots near Whangārei Harbour.
Vallings described the magic five-minute encounter with a pod of six orca on New Year's Day as "bloody unreal".
In true fisherman fashion, Vallings was not prepared to disclose too much information about the location, but said he had caught a number of good decent fish from there over the years.
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After recovering from New Year celebrations, Vallings and his mate ventured out to their fishing spot and had been there for about three hours, landing just one good-sized fish before the pod of orca made their grand entry.
"They come round from the harbour entrance and came in at speed and were thrashing up the water."
On closer inspection it was clear the pod were hunting for their favourite food - stingrays.
"They were upside down waiting for the rays to come down the swell off the rocks and swallowing them. The others were pretty close behind and trying catch the stingrays as well."
At one point he thought they could have almost launched themselves up on the rocks in pursuit of the rays.
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Vallings, a Northtech graduate in 2018 who studied applied science in biodiversity management, said while he had studied a bit about marine life on his course it was an amazing experience to see the impressive mammals at such close quarters.
"I love the fishing but it's not just about the fish. It's about everything you see out there in the ocean and the adventures you can have. You never know what you will see and every day is different when it comes to the sea."
Vallings, who grows and grafts avocado trees and is starting his own business contracting and consulting, videoed the orca on his phone and posted it on social media. That led to an international website touching base expressing interest in buying the video. The video has been shared hundreds of times around the world.
"It might help fund some more fishing trips for me and my mate or at least some beers," he said.
"It was a surreal experience. It wasn't until they were gone and I watched the video over and over that I realised what an amazing experience it was."
Dr Ingrid Visser, founder of the Orca Research Trust, said the pod had been cruising the Northland coastline this summer and were spotted in the Bay Of Islands last week and near Tutukaka earlier this week.
The pod were well known to the Orca Research Trust and had been around since 1993. Some members had been spotted as far south as Kaikoura.
Visser said it was not uncommon for New Zealand orca to come into key fishing spots and this was the time of year they were seeking out stingrays.
"In this situation the fishermen have done the right things and remained calm and did not interfere with the animals while they were hunting," Visser said.
"This is what makes the New Zealand orca so special and one of the reasons we should cherish them."
She encouraged fishers, either on land or in boats, to reel in their lines when they spotted orca approaching as previously some had lost fins, sliced by nylon.
Just before Christmas Visser was involved in freeing an adult male orca tangled in a crayfish pot line. He was first spotted near Tutukaka and was followed by Visser and other members of the Orca Research Trust into Whangārei Harbour where they worked frantically to free him. However, it was five days after he was first spotted that he was freed near Auckland.
The male has not been seen since and Visser is keen to hear from the public if they spot the male.
• If you see the male orca, call 0800 SEE ORCA or 0800 733 6722.