A family has been left "star struck" after an orca swam up to their boat to say hello in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf.
Ross Willis said he, his wife Chrissy, 15-year-old daughter Emily and her 15-year-old friend Milly Askew were out boating around Omaha Beach and Kawau Island on Monday when he spotted a fin in the distance.
Ross said they'd seen plenty of dolphins out on the water but when they realised the creatures were orcas they followed them from a distance between 12.30pm and 1pm.
Orca's are dolphins, but are commonly known as killer whales.
There were about three big orcas, up to eight-metres long, and three babies, Ross said.
Just off Tāwharanui Peninsula in a rocky bay, Emily captured the moment one of the bigger orcas swam right up to their 5.5-metre boat and rolled over as if to greet them.
"It was unbelievable," Ross said. "It was one of those 'it just doesn't happen to us' moments. But it happened to us. You just don't see these things."
Ross said the family was still "in awe" .
"You look at it and go 'it was an honest attempt for a whale to say G'day'.
"It was a really neat experience."
Emily said she was pleased her dad was able to spot them at a distance despite jetting fast on their way back home.
"It was a really cool experience," she said, adding that she was getting a lot of replies on Instagram.
"Most people think it's cool and amazing. It was shocking to see."
Project Jonah general manager Daren Grover told 1 NEWS he wasn't surprised they sea animal came up so close to the family as orcas are intelligent, cunning and charismatic mammals.
He said it was likely the orca knew there was intelligent life on board the boat.
"We see you, we acknowledge you're there. Stay there, that's close enough," he said they could of been trying to communicate.
Grover also said it wasn't uncommon to see orcas hanging around the coast of New Zealand either, as they'd developed a taste for stingray here which live around the shallows. He said they'd learned to hold them in a way that they pass out and are safe to eat.
There are thought to be around 120 to 200 resident orcas in New Zealand waters, as well as others visiting from time to time.
Grover urged people who come across whales or dolphins not to be tempted to touch them or jet too fast around them as it may disrupt their feeding if they're on the hunt. He asked people wanting a closer look to approach from behind or wait as the Willis' did and they may come over to say hi.
If you're in the water he advised people not to panic as splashing around may mimic another animal.
There have been cases of orcas coming up close and even circling swimmers or people snorkeling, but Grover said it was unheard of that any humans were attacked in the wild.
"Pause and see how they're behaving," he advised.
"They are smart, they're clever, they can tell a difference between us as a stingray."
Any incidents of people being hurt or killed by whales or dolphins in captivity would be because they felt they were "kept in an asylum against their will" and acting differently to how they would in the wild, Grover said.
But he urged anyone who spots a sea animal in stress to contact the Department of Conservation, or Project Jonah on 0800 494 253.
Find out more about what do to if you come in contact with a marine mammal on the water or shore here.