When the sun came up on Ninety Mile Beach to reveal an unfamiliar boat abandoned on the sand, the first instincts of police officers were to get in the air.
Survivors who had been tipped out of the vessel might be bobbing in the dangerous west coast waters. Or, in a worst case scenario, their bodies could be retrieved.
It was a Sunday morning, 12 June 2016, and Constable Thomas Nankivell had just started his shift.
"There was a boat which just looked like it had been driven hard up onto the beach," Nankivell would later tell a jury.
"The outboard was dug into the sand so it looked like the boat had literally just come straight onto the beach with the outboard down and then just stayed there as the tide had gone out."
This was not a water rescue mission.
Little did Nankivell know that by the end of the day, his sharp eyes would lead to the biggest drug seizure in New Zealand history.
In fact, if it were not for his quick thinking as Nankivell drove home for the night - and a little bit of luck - it's highly likely 501kg of methamphetamine would have rolled down country in the back of a campervan.
Operation Frontia and Operation Virunga, a secondary investigation, uncovered a well-funded, internationally connected, and sophisticated criminal group composed of Australian "501" deportees, or their friends and family, working in New Zealand undetected for some time.
And making millions of dollars in the drug trade in the new homeland, even after Thomas Nankivell's discovery.
Despite a few bad decisions - and bad luck - they very nearly succeeded in pulling off the motherlode.
Sold by the kilogram, the haul would be worth anywhere between $130 and $150m.
"I was simply staggered by the size of the importation," said Detective Senior Sergeant Lloyd Schmid, who has investigated drugs and organised crime for 25 years.
"It is by far and away the largest seizure in New Zealand history."
A new crime wave
By the early 2000s, the first wave of methamphetamine had washed over the country and the vast profits had entrenched the power of organised crime.
The second wave emerged around 2015 with two new threats.
The high prices which methamphetamine fetches in New Zealand started attracting the attention of Mexican and South American cartels.
A kilogram of methamphetamine, which might cost a few hundred dollars to manufacture, can be sold here for between $200,000 and $350,000.
The second threat was the emergence of the "the "501s" from Australia, named after the section of the Australian immigration law which allows people to be deported on character grounds.
Some serious criminals have been sent back to New Zealand or the Pacific Islands - where they might have been born - despite living in Australia for most of their lives.
For several years, the police have warned of how these "Kiwis" would return to commit crimes and bolster the professionalism of the New Zealand underworld.
A police intelligence report, dated January 2017, anticipated 200 members of Australian gangs which did not have chapters in New Zealand would be deported in the next two years.
These included patched members of the Comanchero, Lone Wolf, Finks, Mongols, Notorious and Descendants motorcycle clubs.
Police believe the rise of the Australian gangs, who have strong links with global criminal figures and even greater professionalism in criminal tradecraft, have already changed the criminal landscape in New Zealand.
And it's Australia where the plan to smuggle 500kg of meth into New Zealand was hatched.
'A big boat at sea'
Louie* was born in Auckland, raised in Australia. He was 18-years-old with a pregnant girlfriend, no job and no real prospects.
A chance meeting at a birthday party in 2015 offered an opportunity to make some money.
The teenager told his financial woes to a man called Big T.
A few months later, Big T and his lieutenant Mack came to his house and packed his suitcase. With bundles of cash.
Louie caught a plane to Bangkok and waited in his hotel for a week, until someone came to collect the cash.
Then he came home. HIs baby was born, a girl, and he still had no job.
As her first birthday approached, Louie sent Big T a Facebook message asking if any "jobs going"?
In February 2016, he flew from Brisbane to New Zealand. He was picked up at Auckland International Airport by Big T and Mack, then later introduced to a third man, Thugga.
They sent him to Bangkok on another money run, while the trio booked flights to Hong Kong.
He was handed a Blackberry, solely to communicate within the group. Louie was the nickname assigned to him, and he never knew their real names.
Louie became the group's drug and money mule, often driving long distances to drop off bags of methamphetamine around the North Island.
He often dealt with an attractive woman known as Blaze, who lived in Auckland.
In May 2016, Thugga texted Louie to say there was a "job going" for the 19-year-old to earn $200,000.
He was asked to rent a campervan, buy 10 large toolboxes (approximately 1m wide) and some shovels.
Louie drove the campervan to Māngere to meet Mack, who then got behind the wheel.
"Mack said we were heading north, that was the first time he mentioned Northland."
The pair drove for hours, past Kaitaia, to Pukenui on the eastern coast of the Far North.
That's where Louie first met two other men, Marvel and Gravel.
Mack had a conversation to one side with the pair.
"He was talking about a big boat waiting out at sea. He spoke about how a smaller boat would be bringing 500kg of methamphetamine to the spot," said Louie.
"They started talking about the swells..it was rough...we would be waiting on the beach for the arrival of the gear."
The plan was for the Chinese crew on board the mothership, which had come from Hong Kong, to bring the drugs to shore in a smaller boat.
Once landed on the beach the 500kg haul would be split in two with half buried in the sand dunes.
On hearing what the job was about, Louie became anxious but felt he had no choice.
So why did he stay?
"Fear," said Louie.
"In that conversation, Mack told me about the people that, or like the sort of gang, that we were working for, and from my knowledge of them, I didn't have the courage to say no."
The mothership was running low on fuel, water and food.
The shore party of Louie, Mack, Marvel and Gravel went shopping for supplies, as well as testing walkie-talkies on the beach and practising marking GPS co-ordinates.
They waited and waited. Two weekends went by and the shipment still hadn't landed.
"This was when things started to go pearshaped," said Louie.
"The smaller boat [on the mothership] was not working and it couldn't come in, Mack was saying that we needed to find a way to - well, to get the stuff."
They couldn't find a boat for sale in the Far North, so Mack and Gravel drove back to Auckland where they purchased a Bayliner vessel.
They paid $49,000 in cash for the 7m boat, which has a V8 engine. They had a vessel to get out to sea, but no one to skipper it.
So the Asian partners of the criminal organisation, based in Hong Kong, sent three men to help.
Two had sailing experience, while the third was a management figure.
And this is where the plan started to unravel faster.
The original decision was to land the boat on Ninety Mile Beach, in the notoriously treacherous waters of the west coast of the Far North.
This would have been difficult enough.
But the Bayliner was a heavy fibreglass boat with an in-board motor, better suited to be launched from a marina or a ramp in calm harbour waters on the east coast.
Not backed into the surf off the sand.
To make matters worse, the two sailors sent from Hong Kong were denied entry at Auckland International Airport.
Customs officials were suspicious about their "business trip" explanation for the sudden decision to visit New Zealand.
They were sent back to Hong Kong although the third man, 'Mr Tsai', was let in.
He was met at Auckland International Airport by Ka Yip Wan, a student, and together they drove straight to Kaitaia to join the shore party.
While they were en route, Mack told Louie and Marvel to find a place to launch the boat off the west coast.
"The guy said no one really launches off the west coast," Louie said, although they were given the name of a local who might help.
'It just doesn't add up'
Leo Lloyd has lived in the Far North for 23 years, in Ahipara about 15 minutes' drive west from Kaitaia.
The coastal village of about 2000 sits at the southern tip of Ninety Mile Beach.
A commercial fisherman in a previous life, Lloyd is a mechanic who fixes forestry and farm machinery, as well as boats.
He lives near the golf course and loves to fish, either off the rocks on the west coast, or in the deep to chase marlin.
"They're like pigs, they travel back to the same spot," Lloyd told the jury.
His life living on the water was invaluable in highlighting the folly of inexperienced rookies wanting to set sail on the west coast.
On 8 June 2016, Lloyd had a phone call from Stevie asking if he could help launch their boat.
So he drove to The Northerner, a Kaitaia motor inn, to meet them and check the vessel.
Although someone would not typically launch a Bayliner from the west coast, Lloyd said he could handle it but only because of his years of local knowledge.
"I wouldn't like to see a new chum do it without someone with experience," Lloyd explained to the jury.
"On the west coast, you've got to know what you're doing...I know the consequences and all the problems you run into."
Stevie wanted to launch that day at 5.30pm, but Lloyd refused.
The tide was wrong, the swell was up, it would be too dark and dangerous.
They agreed to meet the following day in Ahipara at 11am.
Stevie and his friends didn't turn up until 12.30pm, so the tide was now wrong and the swell had grown to 3m.
Lloyd decided it would be safer to launch from nearby Shipwreck Bay, where the beach was more sheltered.
What happened next can only be described as a comedy of errors.
They tried to start the engine, as a test run, but the carburettor was seized up.
Lloyd tinkered around for 40 minutes.
He managed to fix the problem but when he announced he was ready to back the trailer into the water, Stevie asked for more time.
He had an urn in his hands and explained they were going to spread their brother's ashes at sea.
"Steve was holding it, cradling it in his arms and the second person was kissing it and tears started rolling down his eyes, which I was quite surprised to see," Lloyd told the jury.
He was assured, when he asked, that Stevie had been granted permission from local kaumatua to spread the ashes.
It was at that point, Lloyd became suspicious.
Stevie was Māori and his three friends were Polynesian. It was their brother, or close friend, apparently in the urn.
Yet it was the two Chinese men who clambered into the boat, ostensibly to spread the ashes at sea, while the others stayed on shore.
Stevie tried to say it was because Tsai was the one with the boating experience.
The launch was a complete disaster.
On the first attempt, the skipper Tsai was unable to get the stern leg - which powers the boat from the inboard engine - into the water.
They had to winch the boat back in and replace a blown fuse.
On the second attempt, the stern leg was working.
But Tsai, the older of the two Chinese men, couldn't get his act together.
"He would start the boat, then he'd rev it up and he'd put it in gear and the stern leg would be too deep - hitting the sand," Lloyd explained to the jury.
"The motors stalls and everything turns to custard."
Again, Lloyd winched the boat up and had stern words to the skipper, Tsai, and his offsider Wan.
He was annoyed at Wan for being on a satellite phone, instead of listening to his instructions.
This is the last shot.
"We put the boat back into the water, I got out deeper, so when I drove out of the water, he can just start it up and turn around," said Lloyd.
"He just started it up and drove it straight back onto the shore, onto the beach, and that's when I'd had enough."
Four hours had passed. The Bayliner had suffered serious damage.
And to add insult to injury, the tyre on the boat trailer was now flat had to be replaced.
Eventually, Lloyd towed the Bayliner back home to be repaired.
The next day, Friday 10 June 2016, Stevie visited with the others to ask how long until the boat was seaworthy.
Three to four days, Lloyd told them. Stevie told the mechanic to go ahead with the job.
Later, while rummaging around on the boat, Leo switched on the navigation system.
Up came GPS coordinates for a spot about 30 nautical miles out to sea.
Despite telling Leo Lloyd to fix the Bayliner, the shore crew were panicking.
They couldn't wait three or four days. By this stage, another person had joined their ranks.
Blaze's brother, Tall Guy, had just been released from a detention centre in Christmas Island and deported from Australia to New Zealand.
The crew on the mothership were running low on fuel, water and food.
Not to mention suspiciously floating off the coast of New Zealand with 500kg of methamphetamine on board.
Wan said his bosses in Hong Kong were getting nervous, so the decision was made for the shore party to purchase another boat.
They couldn't find one nearby, so Mack and Gravel drove back to Auckland.
The following day, Saturday 11 June 2016, Louie got a text from Mack.
They had purchased a new RHIB - Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat - for $98,000 in cash and were coming straight back to Ahipara.
They would arrive around 5 or 6pm and wanted to launch immediately, come hell or high water.
Leo Lloyd had just got home from coaching rugby when the phone rang.
"Stevie" told him they had bought a RHIB, with a powerful outboard engine, and they wanted to launch in an hour's time.
While Lloyd waited, he had a nosy in the stricken Bayliner which was still parked at his house.
There was enough food to "feed a marae" for a week, as well as 20 or so containers of fuel.
Stevie and the shore party pulled up outside.
It was dark but they were desperate to go.
They urgently moved the food and fuel into the RHIB - which was much more suitable for launching on the west coast - as Leo Lloyd prepared for launch.
He noticed, oddly, the group were wearing gloves.
In spite of themselves, the launch was successful.
"The skipper had the outboard up in the air and the motor was screaming and then he had it in the water, or too deep and it hit the sand."
The RHIB started by heading parallel to the beach, in danger of being tipped over by the surf, before eventually heading out to sea.
It slowly disappeared in the winter gloom and out of sight.
Leo took the boat trailer back to his house, where Stevie put $500 in his hand.
After the shore crew left, Lloyd rang the police.
"I said 'I know this is turning to something more than just a trip out on a boat to spread ashes'," Lloyd told the jury.
He said the police call-taker, who was not based in Northland, downplayed his suspicions.
"I said 'Well, this is unusual because I'm a local and it just doesn't add up."
It wasn't until the next day, that Leo Lloyd was able to share his concerns with local police officers.
Meanwhile, Louie, Mack, Marvel, Tall Guy and Gravel went back to their motel to regroup.
"Mack was saying it'll take the Chinamen a few hours to get to the big boat and return to the spot," Louie told the jury.
"He said that we needed to be ready at the spot before they came back."
The spot was Hukatere, about 60km north of Ahipara.
Their cover story was to be tourists having a barbecue on the beach, with the fire acting as a beacon to help guide the RHIB.
Marvel would drive the two Chinese men, Tsai and Wan, back to Auckland. The others would unload the methamphetamine.
Louie and Tall Guy also dug a hole in the sand dunes, locking the GPS co-ordinates into a hand-held device.
Hours passed and it was now the early hours of Sunday, 12 June 2016.
The faint green and red lights on the RHIB were spotted out at sea.
Louie and the others started flashing the headlights of the campervan and the Toyota Prado SUV.
"So the boat came straight on the sand, you know, like beached," Louie told the jury.
"The two Chinamen went straight into the car. They left straight away. Gravel ran, jumped inside the boat and started unloading bags for myself, Mack and the Tall Guy."
They carried the chequered bags, which weighed about 30kg each, two at a time to the campervan which was parked about 40m away.
Some had split open, with the smaller plastic bags of methamphetamine washing around in the waves.
While the original plan was to split the 500kg load and bury half in the sand dunes, the shore crew buried only two bags in the moonlight. They were nervous about getting caught.
This change in plan was not relayed to their bosses. They parked at the Houhora camping grounds, safe for now. But there was a new problem.
The RHIB was stranded on the beach and daylight was just a few hours away. And there was around 450kg of Class-A drugs in the back of a campervan.
Tall Guy and Gravel drove to Leo Lloyd's in the maroon-coloured Toyota SUV, hoping he could help tow the boat off the beach.
It was too late.
The local police sergeant, Kevin Anderson, returned Leo Lloyd's phone call.
There was a boat beached at Hukatere which matched the description of the RHIB.
"I said 'Yeah that is the boat that we launched'."
Then Gravel and Tall Guy turned up at his doorstep.
Lloyd told them: "You'd better get up the beach because there are people trying to claim for the boat...the police are involved...that's when I saw his body language change.
"He was nervous and shaking, shaking all over. I never saw him again."
Lloyd drove to Hukatere and towed the RHIB back to his house, on behalf of the police.
A few hours later, Sergeant Anderson and Constable Thomas Nankivell were interviewing Lloyd about his dealings with "Stevie" and the others. They had already worked out this was not a water rescue.
By this point, the police had identified "Stevie" as Stevie Cullen, from his records at The Northerner.
The Prado drove past, just as the police officers were about to leave.
"My wife said 'there they go, they're driving past'."
'It was all over from there'
Nankivell and Anderson jumped in their patrol car and followed the Prado down Kaka St.
The road leads to Ahipara golf course - there's only one way in, or out.
The two officers scanned properties as they drove down slowly, before spotting the Toyota in the carpark.
Nankivell spoke to the two men, Tall Guy and Gravel, and searched them.
They found $1605 cash on Tall Guy and a small amount of cannabis on Gravel.
The pair were arrested and taken back to the Kaitaia police station.
At this point, the strangers were considered suspicious. But there was no evidence of a major drug smuggling operation
The 19-year-old Louie was behind the wheel of the campervan, with the huge haul of methamphetamine in the back.
He hadn't heard from Gravel for few hours and messaged Mack to say police cars had been seen around.
Mack told him to not panic.
Thugga asked if he knew how to get to Taipa Bay, about 30 minutes away on the eastern coast.
"I just wanted to get out of there because I had the feeling that Gravel and Tall Guy had been picked up by police...I just said yes because I wanted to get out of there, I didn't really know exactly where it was," Louie told the jury.
"I wasn't sure where I was, whether I was close to Taipa or whether I was driving past it, but during the drive I noticed that a police car was not far behind me."
In another complete stroke of luck, it was Constable Thomas Nankivell.
He had finished his shift, which started back in the morning when the RHIB was discovered at Hukatere.
The campervan had caught his attention by driving slowly, perhaps 60km/h, and holding up traffic on State Highway 10.
Nankivell pulled up alongside the campervan as he went to turn into a side road, when he recognised the registration plate.
It was the campervan they were looking for.
He spun around to pull back in behind the campervan, called for backup, then followed Louie for about 40 minutes until his police colleagues arrived.
Nankivell put on the red-and-blue lights; the campervan pulled over immediately.
Louie: "It was all over from there."
'They are the real heroes in all this'
It was Detective Constable Kelly Bates who opened the backdoor of the campervan.
"It was full of bags. They were those - I call them the cheap nylon bags that you usually put blankets in at maraes, those sort of bags," she told the jury.
Another officer opened one bag. It was full of methamphetamine.
Bates knew she didn't need to open the others. The seriousness of what was unfolding in front of their eyes was obvious.
She was instructed to drive the campervan back to the Kaitaia police station immediately (stopping only to fill up the empty tank).
The campervan was driven into the garage and police formed a chain gang to remove the bags.
"They were heavy. So in each bag was approximately 30 1kg bags," said Bates.
"Because I was the only one lifting it out, by the end of it I was 'had it' because it was half a tonne really of lifting weight out of this campervan on my own."
The snaplock bags of methamphetamine were then pulled out, weighed and counted.
There was more than 440kg.
The GPS device was found in the glovebox of the Toyota Prada and led police to the two bags buried in the dunes. All up, more than 500kg.
The bags were piled in a police cell with armed AOS officers guarding the door, until the Special Tactics Group could transport the methamphetamine to Auckland.
A much wider investigation was now underway and Detective Senior Sergeant Lloyd Schmid had "the machinery up and running".
First thing Monday morning, one of his most experienced investigators was placed in charge.
There were three in custody - Louie, Gravel and Tall Guy - and Detective Sergeant Mike Beal's team moved quickly to identify the others.
Marvel was found and came in with little resistance. Ka Yip Wan was arrested at Auckland International Airport but three others slipped out.
Thugga flew to Thailand and Mack flew to the Philippines. Border alerts meant they were turned around and sent back to New Zealand, where the police were waiting.
Tsai escaped. But he was last seen being arrested by Taiwanese authorities who seized nearly 700kg of heroin.
Within five days of the methamphetamine discovery, seven people had been arrested.
Thugga, whose real name was Jeremiah Iusitini.
Mack, or Malachi Tuilotolava. Gravel was Amoki Fonua. Marvel was Stevie Cullen. Tall Guy was Ulakai Fakaosilea, and Ka Yip Wan.
And Louie, whose real name cannot be revealed because his identity is suppressed.
He became a key witness for the Crown.
But Beal, who has been involved in many of the most significant drug investigations in New Zealand, knew there would be a wider network and infrastructure still in place.
A second investigation, codenamed Operation Virunga, started with a wire tap on the telephone communications of Blaze.
She was revealed to be Selaima Fakaosilea, the sister of Ulakai, whom he later referred to as a "Tongan Barbie".
Ulakai had been deported to New Zealand and their younger brother has also had trouble with law enforcement, as a senior member of the New Zealand chapter of the Comancheros.
Selaima Fakaosilea was in a relationship with Callan Hughes, another Australian deportee, whose lieutenant Kane McArley was also a '501'.
Operation Virunga soon discovered the network was still in business, despite the setback in Northland.
The covert surveillance paid immediate dividends. Selaima Fakaosilea was caught redhanded supplying 14.9kg meth and 1.9kg of cocaine to Adrian Le'Ca, a patched member of the Bandidos from the Thailand chapter.
In just three weeks, Selaima Fakaosilea was seen handing over suitcases holding $3.5 million in cash to be laundered overseas.
Further proof of the sophistication and genuine international links of the group, which unravelled mostly through a series of unfortunate events.
Despite everything that went wrong, Detective Senior Sergeant Lloyd Schmid points out the group was still able to land half a tonne of methamphetamine in New Zealand.
"And relatively easily," said Schmid.
"So there might be a perception that there they were a keystone [crooks] outfit. But they were en route to Auckland.
"Really, how they came unstuck was through the public in the Far North who reported this suspicious activity to the local police. They are the real heroes in all this."
The evidence gathered by the National Organised Crime Group was overwhelming.
Louie was the first to plead guilty and received a sentence of 12 years. Most of the others soon followed suit.
Only Selaima Fakaosilea and Stevie Cullen took the case to trial on the importation charges.
Selaima admitted her role in the money laundering and distribution of meth across the country, but denied any role in the importation.
But after a six week trial in the High Court at Whangarei, both were convicted of importing a Class-A drug and participating in an organised criminal group.
Today, Cullen and Fakaosilea were sentenced by Justice Christine Gordon to 27 and 12 years 6 months in prison respectively, bringing the curtain down on the country's largest drug importation.
The sentence for Fakaosilea will be added to the 14 year six month sentence for her earlier offending - a total of 27 years.
Cullen will serve a minimum of nine years before being eligible for parole, while Fakaosilea will be behind bars for at least 7 years.
In sentencing the pair, Justice Gordon quoted the evidence of Detective Sergeant Mike Beal, the officer in charge, who said the discovery of 501kg of methamphetamine was a "momentous event" in New Zealand.
"This would have inflicted enormous social and economic cost on the community," the judge said.
Ka Yip Wan - 23 years
'Gravel' aka Amoki Matoto Fonua - 22 years
'Thugga' aka Jeremiah Iusitini - 25 years 7 months
'Tall Guy' aka Ulakai Fakaosilea - - 22 years 9 months
'Mack' aka Malachi Tuilotolava - 24 years
'Marvel' aka Stevie Norua Cullen - 27 years
'Blaze' aka Selaima Fakaosilea - 12 years 6 months
'Louie' - 12 years
Callan Hughes - 15 years
Selaima Fakaosilea -14 years 6 months
Kane McArley - 9 years