Reece Samuels has seen a few great white sharks during the 27 years he's been diving - but he admits to feeling a little intimidated watching a particularly "curious" one poke its head out of the water and chew the outboard when he was fishing.

The 33-year-old Kerikeri man, his dad Dover and nephew Tui had been out to Taheke Reef - off the Cavalli Islands - to do a spot of hapuka fishing on Sunday and then came back into one of the other islands - Panaki - to fish for snapper and dive for paua and kina about 2pm.

"We were probably there for 15 to 20 minutes and on the starboard side of the boat I heard like a bow wave of a small boat passing but very quietly, so like the breaking of the water, and the shark was on the surface.

"It circled and circled and circled. The old man thought it was a mako to begin with but not until she became more game and came right in and stuck her head out of the water at the back and started to have a bit of a chew on the outboard - out of the water - did we realise it was a 15ft (4.5m) white shark."

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He said the shark was more curious than other great whites he had encountered.

"You'd be a fool not to say you feel a little intimidated or worried when something that big is playing with you - sort of like a cat and mouse game - a bit of fun, it certainly puts you in your place."

Samuels has been diving since he was 6 and scuba diving since he was 13. He has dived with great whites in Australia before but this was the first time he'd seen one poke its head out of the water.

"It's something you see on David Attenborough, or when people are shark feeding."

Samuels said they stayed in that spot for about an hour watching the shark circle before Dover, who was more interested in catching fish, made the call to head home.

"Dad was still trying to pull in snapper and that's why we ended up leaving after an hour because he got fed up with it... We were sitting there looking at this great white going 'what about the white' and he said 'don't worry about it, lets go home'."