The man who brought down a half-billion dollar methamphetamine operation has spoken out about his involvement with the men accused of smuggling almost 500kg of drugs on to 90 Mile Beach.
The Ahipara man spoke to the Herald last night about meeting the men, agreeing to help them and then - after becoming suspicious - working with police to nab them.
"I was with them at the start, and I was with them at the end," he told the Herald.
The Herald has agreed not to name the man to protect the safety and privacy of his family.
He said he was contacted by a group - made up of three Pacific Island men, a Maori, and two Chinese nationals - to ask for help launching a boat last Wednesday. A keen fisherman and respected mechanic, he is often called on to help with such things.
"I said yes I'd help them launch the boat and they said it was about 8m. I went to have a look, they were staying in Kaitaia," he said. "I said 'yeah, I can launch that beast'."
They made plans to meet on Thursday when the men told him they wanted to go out to scatter a friend's ashes at sea.
The boat, a Bayliner, had a raft of mechanical issues and the mechanic told the men it was proving very difficult to launch the vessel.
One of them said "we've got to do this mission".
Eventually they got it into the water.
"It was clear that the skipper, one of the Chinese guys, had no idea how to handle the boat. It all turned to custard. I said we're going to abort this mission."
The boat was pulled back on to its trailer and the mechanic agreed to take it to his house to fix it.
"There was food, heaps of food and heaps of petrol ... fresh vegetables, bread, noodles and little energy chocolate bars, pumpkins."
The mechanic saw a number of other things in the boat, but to protect the police investigation he would not be drawn on the specifics.
"We suspected something was happening at sea. On Saturday I said to my wife 'we've got to do something about this, this is serious stuff. I am going to report this to the police'."
He had just finished speaking to police when one of the men called and spoke to the mechanic's wife. "They want to launch another boat," she told him.
From then on the mechanic kept police informed, telling them everything he was doing with the men.
They had purchased a new boat in Auckland for about $98,000. He agreed to launch it and told them to meet him at Ahipara Beach.
"They took off [about 6.10pm] and we watched them head up the beach. They didn't seem to know where they were going at first."
The police called the mechanic the next morning to say a boat had been found abandoned north of Ahipara.
He was able to confirm it belonged to the group.
It contained large mesh bags inside with ropes attached, and a GPS unit revealed the men had been out to a particular spot off 90 Mile Beach and back in again.
The mechanic towed the boat home and soon after police confirmed they were coming to seize both vessels - just as one of the group turned up.
"I told him the police were involved and he started shaking. He wanted to sink into the concrete."
Police caught the man as he tried to flee in a Toyota Prado.
Hours later the camper van containing bags of methamphetamine was spotted by an off-duty cop about 40km away.
An Ahipara man also said he saw an aircraft, which he believed was a twin-engined turbo prop plane, flying low above the water in bad weather last Wednesday evening. He reported the incident to police on Tuesday.
Four men have appeared in court in Kaitaia and Manukau charged with importing and possessing methamphetamine and police say more arrests are possible.