The untold story of how local Northland officers uncovered New Zealand's largest ever shipment of smuggled drugs has been revealed.

The "perseverance and excellent detective work" which led to the biggest drug bust in New Zealand's history has been recognised with two special police awards.

Sergeant Kevin Anderson and Detective Constable Thomas Nankivell received police commissioner's commendations for their professionalism and commitment leading to the seizure of 498kg of methamphetamine in 2016.

District commander Superintendent Tony Hill, centre, congratulates Sergeant Kevin Anderson and Detective Constable Thomas Nankivell for the work involved in seizing nearly half a tonne of methamphetamine.
District commander Superintendent Tony Hill, centre, congratulates Sergeant Kevin Anderson and Detective Constable Thomas Nankivell for the work involved in seizing nearly half a tonne of methamphetamine.

The pair received the commendation at an awards ceremony held at Kaitaia police station last Wednesday where details emerged of how the local officers twigged to the crime as it unfolded on their doorstep.

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The seizure in June 2016 came after a two-day investigation, which unfolded like the plot of a thriller novel.

Sergeant Anderson said the crazy thing was no police officials would initially believe what was going on.

But he persisted with the detective work, after getting a call from a friend saying some people were trying to launch a $100,000 boat at Shipwreck Bay on Ninety Mile Beach.

The very large boat was not suitable to be launched on the beach and was damaged.

Stranger still, the suspects later returned from Auckland with a brand new boat, Sergeant Anderson said.

That boat was later found abandoned on Ninety Mile Beach, with large nets which had been cut.

Suspicions rising of a drug transfer taking place, the police team continued their investigation.

"We ran around trying to find them and went to every motel in town," Sergeant Anderson said.

"[The suspects] bought up every suitcase in The Warehouse and rubber gloves. We missed them by minutes."

Two of the suspects were arrested but the large haul of drugs was not found until Detective Constable Nankivell spotted a suspicious campervan on the way home.

The campervan's licence plate showed it was what police were looking for. Detective Constable Nankivell called for back-up and pulled the vehicle over, conducting a search under the Search and Surveillance Act.

Detective Constable Nankivell was on his way home when spotted this
Detective Constable Nankivell was on his way home when spotted this "suspicious looking" campervan. Photo / File

A total of 448kg of methamphetamine was found in the vehicle, packed into suitcases.

Another 50kg was later found buried in the sand dunes on Ninety Mile Beach. The drugs are suspected to be worth nearly $500 million.

Several people were subsequently charged with importing a Class A drug.

Northland district commander Superintendent Tony Hill praised the officers for going "above and beyond".

The seizure stopped the social harm that would have come, had the methamphetamine hit the streets, he said.

Detective Constable Thomas Nankivell said it was nice to be recognised with the awardsand also thanked Sergeant Anderson for his leadership.

A number of other officers were also recognised at the ceremony for long-service awards.