Jacinda Ardern has welcomed Scott Morrison to New Zealand with the traditional nose-to-nose hongi greeting, for the Australian Prime Minister’s whistlestop visit.
Queenstown is playing host to the annual Australia-New Zealand Leaders Forum, with Ms Ardern choosing the South Island ski town to highlight the best in Kiwi tourism to Australians.
The opening of the trans-Tasman bubble last month means Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand) is the only international destination that Australians can visit with ease during the pandemic.
Mr Morrison lauded its opening, and the reconnections it has allowed.
“Quarantine-free travel not only means the Prime Minister and I can hold our annual talks in person, it highlights that our travel bubble is seeing friends and family reunite across the ditch,” he said.
The coronavirus outbreak in Victoria had led to speculation the Coalition leader would call off the trip as it may have been a bad look to travel internationally during a crisis at home.
“He did a runner to Hawaii during the bushfires (in December 2019) thinking it was under control, and it backfired on him,” Jennifer Curtin, politics professor at the University of Auckland, told AAP.
Instead, “Shark One” touched down at Queenstown airport just after 3pm NZST for the 24-hour visit.
Mr Morrison met Ms Ardern at the Rees Hotel, where Maori leaders led a heartfelt and sometimes humorous powhiri – or formal greeting.
Edward Ellison, representing Ngai tahu and New Zealand, likened Mr Morrison to a special but rare bird not often seen.
Mr Ellison noted long-lasting ties between the two lands that pre-dated the official founding of either nation.
“We liked you then and we like you now,” he said.
“We wish you well in your talks … clearing away any pebbles between us.”
Representing Australia, Kiwi Foreign Affairs official Martin Wikaira sang a Maori version of Waltzing Matilda that had Ms Ardern laughing.
Ms Ardern and Ms Morrison then shared the hongi – the sacred Maori greeting where two people touch noses and share breath.
The two leaders and their partners will have a private dinner tonight, ahead of formal talks on Monday.
There’s plenty to gain for both leaders over the 24 hours that Mr Morrison is in Queenstown.
They’ll talk about dealing with China, the Pacific and their pledge to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine to the region, deportations, and more.
There will be plenty of photo opportunities – from which they both benefit.
With an election in less than a year’s time, Mr Morrison will no doubt enjoy standing alongside Ms Ardern – who has been consistently voted by Australians as their favourite politician since her election in 2017.
And Ms Ardern can put her country in the spotlight, tempting Aussies into trans-Tasman travel.
Ski fields, hotels and hospitality businesses are licking their lips at the prospect of Aussie dollars returning after a lean 2020.