Less than 12 hours into his debut visit to New Zealand, Barack Obama has had a Kiwi cup of joe and flown in style to our version of the Hamptons – Northland’s Kauri Cliffs.
The 44th president of the US has caused quite the stir since he landed in New Zealand early this morning by private jet.
He stayed at the Sofitel last night, the front doors of which were guarded by three police officers overnight and into this morning.
Two sedans were followed by a 4WD from the underground car park shortly after 8.30am. The 4WD, which had tinted windows, was followed closely by two police cars.
Barack Obama at Mechanics Bay just before his chopper flight to Kauri Cliffs. Photo / Brett Phibbs
A handful of office workers stood around the carpark entrance as the motorcade left, hoping to catch a glimpse inside the car.
He was escorted to Mechanics Bay on Auckland’s waterfront and from there, flew north to join former Prime Minister Sir John Key and his family for a golfing rendezvous.
A Herald reporter at Northland’s prestigious Kauri Cliffs golf course said the Keys and Obama were playing golf well away from cameras.
It’s anyone’s guess how today’s game is going, but Sir John was in fine form in a practice round over the weekend.
According to Key’s player profile on golf.co.nz, the former PM played a round at the exclusive Northland course Tara Iti, shooting a 79 off the middle markers.
He has a handicap of 8 and Obama revealed in 2016 that he had a registered handicap of 13.
Golfer-in-chief: Two golf carts on the stunning 13th hole at Kauri Cliffs. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Hitting the green with Obama was former US Ambassador Mark Gilbert, who had returned to New Zealand for Obama’s visit.
Gilbert said the trip would emphasise the growing relationship between NZ and the US.
Speaking to Mike Hosking Breakfast, Gilbert said he had met Obama around 13 years ago and had stayed in contact since.
“We struck up a friendship when he was a newly elected junior senator from the state of Illinois,” Gilbert said.
Obama “absolutely” still had a big influence on society, Gilbert said, despite his removal from the political sphere.
“What he’s really focusing on right now is the Obama Foundation and how they can teach young aspiring leaders to be the next generation of leaders around the world.”
After a day on the green, Obama was expected to stay overnight at The Landing, a resort with private beaches and a vineyard that costs between $3500 and $13,000 a night.
It was rumoured he would hit the green for another game tomorrow, before heading back to Auckland for a private meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Next up was a 1000-guest invitation-only dinner at the ANZ Viaduct Events Centre on Thursday evening.
The event is being hosted by the New Zealand United States Council (NZ US), and sponsored by Westpac, Mastercard and Air New Zealand.
On the exclusive list was a selection of mayors, as well as public figures and politicians.
Former All Black captain Richie McCaw and scientist Michelle Dickinson were rumoured to have scored an invitation.
Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless has turned down an invitation, because of “prior commitments”.
“I have a citizenship ceremony to attend for 60 people and their families and friends. If I had gone to the dinner I would have been letting 200-300 people down,” he told the Herald.
Brownless said he received the invitation two-and-a-half weeks ago and it was too short notice to reschedule the events.
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