A pod of orcas and a pair of water skis has made this year's summer holiday to the Marlborough Sounds pretty hard to top for one six-year-old Hamilton girl and her family.
The Kepas and two other families head away every year together for the summer break. This year they chose Kumutoto Bay at Queen Charlotte Sound for a week of boating activities and relaxation.
Last Sunday night on their second day there, six-year-old Stella Kepa decided she wanted to try water skiing for the first time. Her mum Natalie says she had warned Stella it would be difficult to stand up and she would probably have to give it a few goes.
But it only took Stella one.
Natalie says she stayed on the boat holding the skis while family friend Brooke Sloss was with Stella on the beach.
"Brooke set her up and then off she went," says Natalie.
With everyone so focused on Stella standing up for the first time, neither Natalie or Brooke noticed a pod of four orcas swimming into the bay. Until they did notice.
"It happened within seconds. As we cruised over the orcas had come in. My husband saw them come through and swim right under the jetty he was standing on," says Natalie.
Someone on the boat then noticed a shadow shoot underneath and notified the others. All the while young Stella was still water skiing, still standing up.
"It was so petrifying, I thought it was a great white or something at first," says Natalie.
'THEY WERE HUGE'
One of the four orcas had positioned itself between the boat and Stella. Natalie says they thought it must have been playing in the wake.
"They were huge, all four of them. I didn't want Stella to drop the rope and fall off," she said.
"The thing is Stella is only six. I thought if she falls in there... It was terrifying, she's my baby."
Meanwhile, Stella's dad Luke was waiting on the jetty with their friend which is where the boat headed as soon as they saw the orcas.
Natalie says he remained calm, even catching it on video, but she was the opposite.
"I tried to remain calm but as you can hear in the video I was panicked, fearing for her life. He looked at my face and knew he needed to get in there," she said.
As for the young first-time water skiier, Stella couldn't have been less afraid.
"She thinks its amazing, she's so stoked she could ski.
"The fact that she rode over a whale, she's not even scared."
Once Stella was out of the water, Natalie says they noticed a number of other boats had come into the bay to check the orcas out.
She said their friend Brooke has been going there on holiday for around 15 years or so and has never seen orcas in the bay, and certainly not that close.
Still on holiday, the families have planned to head out for another water ski today, their first since the orca experience.
"The weather hasn't been very good so we haven't been out since, but we're going to go out today," says Natalie.
Stella is also going to have another go on the skis.
"I don't want her to be afraid of trying," says Natalie.
"It's definitely a once in a lifetime experience."