The remote Bay of Plenty communities of Taneatua and Ruatoki resembled scenes out of a movie yesterday as armed police and officers in camouflage gear swarmed into the area in convoys of marked and unmarked vehicles and a helicopter.
Dawn raids were executed at several properties in the Ruatoki Valley, including a tin shack where Tuhoe activist Tame Iti was staying.
Police remained at the shack last night, conducting searches in tall grass outside, after earlier arresting Iti in relation to the suspected nationwide terror plot.
A father and son at a separate property where Maori sovereignty flags were flying were also among those taken into custody.
The father was released after being questioned at Rotorua police station, while his son - aged about 30 and who other Ruatoki residents said was a "follower" of Iti - is among those now facing charges in relation to the suspected plot.
The father, who cannot be named while his son has interim name suppression, said armed police arrived on their property on Ruatoki Valley Rd about 5am.
A neighbour, who did not want to be named, said she saw about 30 armed officers creeping past her window.
The man taken in for questioning said the officers presented a search warrant and ordered everyone in the house, including six children, into one room.
"They were all bundled into the sitting room. The little ones were crying their heads off."
The man would not reveal what questions he and his son were asked or whether weapons were seized from the property, saying they had engaged a lawyer and could not comment.
Asked about allegations of paramilitary-style camps operating in the Ruatoki valley, he said there were "hundreds of camps" there, but they were mostly used by locals hunting pig, deer or possums, and organisations working with troubled children.
"Now stories are popping up that they've got a terrorism group [but] as far as I know, there's nothing like that happening. We should know if anything like that's happening."
Locals had also set up a marae in the valley which, like the camps, was inaccessible except by foot, horse or four-wheel-drive, he said.
Before the raids, police set up bases at Taneatua's squash and rugby clubs and remained a heavy presence in the area throughout the day.
A cordon was set up at Taneatua at dawn to prevent people entering the valley, and all vehicles leaving were searched by armed offenders squad officers.
The officers, clad in black uniforms and carrying assault rifles, ordered motorists and passengers to step out of their cars while they conducted searches at a roadblock inside the cordon.
They opened boots and bonnets and checked the underside of vehicles and trailers of trucks with mirrors mounted on poles.
Some people were photographed after police gave them pieces of paper with numbers to hold.
A bus picking up children to attend a kohanga reo in Ruatoki was among the vehicles searched when it came through the roadblock at 7am.
"Guys with guns searched the bus," teacher Vivienne Heurea said. "We were told they were looking for arms and knives. They were searching all the vehicles."
Ms Heurea said she saw three Army trucks filled with soldiers heading into Ruatoki.
She and bus driver Isaac Nuku spent the morning waiting in Taneatua, unable to take the 50 children they usually pick up from Taneatua and Whakatane to the Te Whaki kohanga reo.
They had heard Iti had been arrested but knew little else and were shocked by the constant stream of police vehicles into the cordoned area.
"This is as if we've got bin Laden hidden up there," Mr Nuku said.
"You see it on TV but man, I've never seen so many cops in my life."
Mr Nuku's wife had left their home at Ruatoki at 6am and told her husband she had been photographed by police.
Another man, who did not want to be named, said he was given the number 4 before officers took his picture.
"They said to lift it up," the man said. "They said, 'It's Government policy to check your vehicle out'."
The man spoke to the Herald at the roadblock, which was set up by the "confiscation line" - a spot marked on the road by Tuhoe separatists as the boundary of their tribal lands.
Vehicles heading to Ruatoki were allowed to this point, about 5km inland from Taneatua, after the cordon at Taneatua was lifted at 11am. However, the roadblock at the confiscation line remained in place until just after 1pm and police continued to search all vehicles leaving Ruatoki.
A man from one vehicle was seen being detained in plastic handcuffs, and yelling could be heard.