This story was first published on Monday December 10
Extraordinary drone footage has emerged of the moment a Coromandel swimmer found herself encircled by a pod of orca whales.
Judie Johnson, in her 60s, was swimming alone at Hahei Beach last week when three orca sidled up to her in the water.
The orca are seen playfully swimming around her, with the largest nearly nipping at her toes.
"There was a shape that went under me, like a huge shape and I thought [it was] dolphins and I was quite excited, and then I saw the great white colour on the back.
"I was also thinking they eat seals and I’m in a black wetsuit," Ms Johnson told 1 NEWS.
The Hahei resident initially got out of the water but, to the surprise of onlookers, returned to complete her training swim.
She was again surrounded by the three orca, believed to be an adult, juvenile and calf.
Ms Johnson says she remembers gazing directly into the adult orca's huge eyes, her fear quickly turning to joy.
"It was so different to anything that’s happened to me before, and I thought, no, this is a life-changing experience.
"They were as interested and curious about me as I was about them."
The drone footage was captured by visiting Australian tourist, Dylan Brayshaw, who witnessed the encounter from the beach.
"I would have thought she would have just stayed out of the water.
"I've seen trainers get harmed in captivity but in the wild I didn’t know what to expect," Mr Brayshaw said.
Orca expert Dr Regina Eisert says the swimmer wasn’t in danger.
"Killer whales are the largest of the dolphin family so they are just big dolphins with a fancy paint job and we all know dolphins are very, very smart and very playful," she said.
But conservationists do warn swimmers should not approach marine mammals.
Drone users require permit from the Department of Conservation if filming within 150m of a marine mammal.