A hidden crop of 100 cannabis plants in the Kaingaroa Forest has been busted by police using a drone.
The sprawling forest is the largest in the North Island, stretching from Lake Taupo to Kawerau. It's so big that despite a tip-off from a member of the public, police with dogs were unable to find the crop.
"We borrowed a drone and with that we were able to locate the cannabis plants," Sergeant Chris Turnbull told Fairfax.
"Without that drone we would not have found it and would have just been wandering around the bush."
An anonymous member of the public alerted police to suspicious activity on April 7.
Police say people were seen unloading a bike from a ute and heading into the forest with machetes.
Police stopped the men as they returned to the vehicle.
"They had two machetes and reeked of cannabis. Their excuse was they were hunting with the machetes, which is an offence in itself," Sgt Turner said.
The two men were detained on hunting charges while police conducted a search on foot, using dogs.
Despite covering 18 kilometres of the forest on foot, police were unable to find the crop until the drone was borrowed and deployed.
Sgt Turner said it is the first time they have used a drone.
The use of drones in police operations is on a case-by-case basis, police told Newshub.
"Approved local operators are contracted for use if deemed a beneficial and appropriate tactic by the Police district."
The two men have been charged with possession and intent to supply.
In August 2016, police in Queensland, Australia used a drone to find a cannabis crop worth AU$4.5 million in a state forest.
At the time, police described use of drone technology as a "game-changer".