Police have broken a major cannabis ring in Southland and Otago, seizing dope that would have been worth $1 million on the street.
The ring had been operating for at least 20 years, growing cannabis in bush fringes and remote areas of western Southland, and the five people arrested following the four-year Operation Canary were "from all walks of life", police said on Thursday.
More arrests are likely in the coming weeks.
In 2008, Winton police began investigating drug growing and dealing in the area, and the investigation spread to Fiordland and Queenstown Lakes.
It pointed them to a growing syndicate, involving millions of dollars, operated by people from Invercargill and Queenstown.
"It appears that the operation had been ongoing for years, if not decades," said southern district crime services manager, Detective Inspector Steve McGregor.
Four people had already been arrested over recent months, he said.
On Thursday two Queenstown men, aged 62 and 55, a 50-year-old Glenorchy man, a 42-year-old Invercargill men and a 23-year-old northern Southland man were charged with cannabis offences and were due to appear in Invercargill and Queenstown courts.
During the 2011/12 cannabis growing season police found about 41 kilograms of high-quality cannabis, with an estimated street value of around $1m.
Police estimate that over four years the syndicate has grown cannabis worth around $4.5m.