First their kayak capsized - then a huge black fin followed Jim and Carly Davenport as they struggled to shore.
The West Auckland father and daughter were kayaking at Waiotahi Beach near Opotiki when the drama unfolded yesterday morning.
The storage hatch of their two-person kayak came loose and the vessel took on water and flipped.
Jim and Carly, 9, clung to the upturned kayak. They were wearing lifejackets and Jim was confident the waves would wash them to shore. He felt less assured when he saw a huge fin just metres away.
"I thought it was a yacht, because it was quite big," he said.
"My daughter was pretty calm and she just said, 'Daddy, I think there's a shark'."
He thought it was an orca but decided it must have been a pilot whale because it was black. Police and staff at a nearby motor camp told the Herald on Sunday they had seen a pod of orca.
Jim said it was bigger than two cars and two more whales some distance away were watching on.
"It was pretty freaky," he said.
"I told my daughter whales come out and help you like dolphins do. It seemed like a good story to tell."
The whale came within a metre or two of the kayak and circled them several times.
An off duty police officer at the beach alerted emergency services to the situation but the duo were rescued by other kayakers.
Marine mammal expert Floppy Halliday said they were not in any danger from the whale. It would just have been curious, she said.
Carly couldn't wait to tell her friends about her adventure.
Meanwhile, a Tauranga man in his 50s was stung on the face by a jellyfish near Motiti Island yesterday. The rescue helicopter attended but he didn't require hospital treatment.