A Northland landowner was told a block of land he had leased out would be used to grow produce in glass houses to supply restaurants in Auckland.
But instead of growing blueberries, capsicums and bok choy a team of police discovered a forest of flourishing cannabis plants during their annual blitz on drugs in the region.
In what is one of the largest cannabis growing operations found in the region in recent years more than 20 staff, including from the Northland District and the Financial Crime Group, executed a search warrant at a property on Oturei Settlement Rd, near Aratapu, Dargaville, last Thursday.
During the raid five glass houses filled with more than 4000 plants were discovered, some of which were seized and the others sprayed with weed killer in a blue dye.
The property, about 10km southeast of Dargaville, was put into lockdown while the police team worked in the area for three days.
One of the glass houses which was crammed with plants of various sizes was more than 60m wide.
Four men aged between 20 and 45 were found at the rural property and have been charged with cultivating cannabis. They are next due to appear in the Whangārei District Court next week.
The landowner, who did not want to be named, said he leased the block of land out about six months ago.
The land had been listed on Trade Me and, the landowner said, one Sunday afternoon a man from Auckland turned up saying he had been looking for land in Northland and he would like to view the block.
The Aucklander said he wanted some land where they could build tunnel houses to grow a variety of vegetables and fruits including blueberries, bok choy and capsicums to supply their restaurants in the city.
An agreement was struck and the land leased. The glass houses, constructed from large plastic sheets laid over wooden frames, were soon built.
"They said they wanted privacy and put up a fence to delineate the block they were leasing. They had their own entrance," the landowner said.
The first he knew of the major drug operation was when he spotted a helicopter flying over nearby and then the chopper flew several times over the leased block.
"I was sitting in the house talking to an old friend who had turned up. I knew nothing of what they were doing down there until the cops came and spoke to me."
He said the property was put into lockdown with about 30 officers on the site, with some carrying firearms.
When police left the landowner inspected the area and was disgusted with the mess left behind.
"It looked like police had slashed the roofs and lowered the bucket beneath the chopper to spray the plants. Some plants had been taken but the rest were left there with all the pots ... it was just a mess.
"I'm not sure who will clean it up. I guess it will be at my expense."
The increased police traffic on the dusty gravel road also aroused the suspicions of the other rural residents.
"It was pretty full on for a couple of days with cop cars coming up and down the road," a woman said.
"I saw the spotter plane first and then the helicopter with the bucket hanging off the bottom. The cops are usually round this area about this time so I knew they must have found something."
Detective Senior Sergeant Geoff McCarthy said the cannabis cultivation operation was sophisticated and well established and the plants themselves ranged in size from seedlings through to mature plants about 2.5m high.
"This is one of the most significant cannabis seizures police have made in the Northland District for a number of years. There can be little doubt the cannabis being cultivated was destined for supply throughout New Zealand," he said.
"This is a great result for our communities who in the end suffer from the effects of drugs and organised crime."
As the matter was before the court and inquiries were ongoing, police would not make any further comments.