Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has arrived in Queenstown for formal talks with New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.
Mr Morrison was welcomed with the traditional hongi greeting in Queenstown, which is playing host to the annual Australia-New Zealand Leaders Forum.
Ms Ardern choosing the South Island ski town to highlight the best in Kiwi tourism to Australians.
On arrival, the pair engaged in the traditional Maori greeting, touching noses and sharing breath.
The visit comes after the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble last month.
“Quarantine-free travel not only means the Prime Minister [Jacinda Ardern] and I can hold our annual talks in person, it highlights that our travel bubble is seeing friends and family reunite across the ditch,” Mr Morrison said.
Given their success in tackling COVID-19, both leaders engaged in some backslapping over the border reopening.
“I believe what Australia and New Zealand have been able to achieve in this last 18 months is quite extraordinary on a global scale,” Mr Morrison said.
“It’s a testimony to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.”
“It is an ANZAC path that we have charted through the pandemic.
“We have gone on our own way in this part of the world.
Mr Morrison made the trip despite a growing COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria, which drew speculation he might not travel.
“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 on Sunday for the 24-hour visit.
Mr Morrison met Ms Ardern at the Rees Hotel, where Maori leaders led a heartfelt and sometimes humorous “powhiri”, a formal Maori welcoming ceremony.
Edward Ellison, representing the South Island’s Ngai tahu tribe and New Zealand, likened Mr Morrison to a special but rare bird not often seen.
“Many of us feel exactly that way given the time we’ve had apart,” Ms Ardern said.
“One of the things that we have missed so much as New Zealanders has been our ability to show our manaakitanga, our hospitality to others.”
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.
The two leaders and their partners travelled up Queenstown’s gondola to address business and tourism leaders with the spectacular vista of Lake Wakatipu at sunset below.
They finished their Sunday with a private dinner, ahead of formal talks on Monday.
There’s plenty to gain for both leaders during the dashing visit.
On the agenda is China, the Pacific and the two countries’ pledge to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine to the region, deportations, and more.
Mr Morrison said closer economic ties would be on the agenda of the formal talks.
“We have a shared prosperity – Australia and New Zealand. That is what the closer economic relationship has always been about. It is about a shared prosperity.
“And that shared prosperity is what we have been able to achieve through COVID and now opening up. And let’s just see how much further that can go.
“But for now we can’t be complacent. We need to focus on the work ahead.”
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.
The opening of the trans-Tasman bubble last month means Aotearoa is the only international destination that Australians can visit with ease during the pandemic.
Ski fields, hotels and hospitality businesses are licking their lips at the prospect of Aussie dollars returning after a lean 2020.
“Tourism industries have had to suffer the most through this pandemic,” Mr Morrison said, drawing laughs from a reference to an iconic Queenstown burger joint.
“We saw the lines of Fergburger get shorter and shorter … it’s the Fergburger Index.”