Clayton Rudolph closed his eyes, braced himself in the water and waited for the powerful bite of a great white shark to hit.

He thought it was game over.

The 50-year-old had just managed to flick his catch bag at the 5.5m great white shark and hit it in the face as it swam towards him during a crayfish dive at Peach Cove.

"It was coming towards me and I pushed the catch bag at it. The bag flipped open and hit its face. I thrust the catch bag to fend it away," the Ruakaka man said recalling the terrifying experience.

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"I winced and closed my eyes and just waited for the hit."

It glided past.

"As it did I felt the pressure of the water push my head back."

Not in his 30 years of spearfishing and diving has the Ruakaka man come so close to death.

He and mate of 20 years Shane Watson decided a cray dive was on the menu last Thursday.

The duo had gone to Guano Rock, just off Ocean Beach at Whangarei Heads, for a dive but it yielded only one crayfish so they moved to Peach Cove.

It was windy and they were unsure about anchoring.

"I told Shane to drop me in and I'd go for a look," Mr Rudolph said.

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He slipped into the water and was about 10 metres away from the rocks on the shoreline.

He let air out of his buoyancy control device, allowing him to sink to about 6m under the water.

When the bubbles cleared something caught his eye.

It was then he knew he was eyeballing a great white shark just 10 metres away.

"It was near the surface so I was looking up underneath. I've seen sharks before when I've been spearfishing, bronzies (bronze whalers) and makos, but never anything this big."

As it cruised past he could see the white underbelly and the black top and thought it was about 5.5m in length. He estimated the thickness through its body to be about his own height - 1.8m.

"Within a blink of an eye it swam back towards me.

"I was thinking 'do I try and hide in the rocks' but I just started kicking up. I popped up to the surface."

It was then he struck it with his empty catch bag.

"The heart beat was racing. I started to panic. I stuck me head up out of the water and screamed for Shane to come and get me. He said I had fear in my voice."

The shark glided away and Mr Rudolph did not see it turn but it was coming back towards him again.

"Shane looked over and thought it was a rock he was about to hit before he veered away. I was yelling at him to pull me in.

"I was panicking by then I just wanted to get in the boat."

Mr Rudolph was hauled aboard the boat, crawled to the middle and lay on his back trying to calm himself.

"It was the sheer size that put the fear in me. I'd be the first person to put my hand up and say I was scared."

Not one to let a close encounter with a great white deter him from getting a feed, he was back in the water again in an hour.

He reckons once he got himself together again the duo motored around inside the harbour entrance to Urquharts Bay where Mr Rudolph plunged into the water for a scallop dive.

"It was the quickest scallop dive I've ever done. I was always looking around and above me but I'm not going to have this stop me doing something I'm passionate about."

Department of Conservation shark expert Clinton Duffy said an encounter with a great white was incredibly rare.

Mr Duffy said given the description about how fat it was it could be a pregnant female due to pup.

A kayaker fishing off the Power Station also reported a large shark breaching close by at the northern end of Ruakaka beach on Sunday, September 3.