Prime Minister John Key was driven at more than twice the legal speed limit across battered Samoan roads so he could have a shower before seeing tsunami damage.
Journalists travelling with the speeding motorcade report fearing for their lives as they careered at more than 100kmh to deliver the prime minister from the airport to the high commission.
The legal speed limit is 40kmh.
Mr Key said his motorcade in Samoa did not reach excessive speeds but was slowed down at his security personnel's request.
He told Breakfast on TV One this morning that the maximum reached was about 65kmh but that was considered too fast.
"The feeling from our guys who with me, my protection people, was they were going a bit too fast," he said.
"My people went over to the Samoan police and said 'look we want you to slow down'."
Mr Key said the motorcade was quite long which made speed more of an issue.
"Those roads aren't built for fast motorcades. It was driven by Samoan police, they were the ones in leading the motorcade."
Spokesman Kevin Taylor said: "Samoan authorities were notified of the concern at the end of the first movement, and the speed of the motorcade was reduced in subsequent movements."
But journalists driving with the motorcade agree it reached speeds of more than 100kmh, with one reporting 120kmh – three times the limit.
Mr Key cut short a trip to the United States to visit Samoa and arrived there at midday on Friday (Saturday, NZ time), but he had to be back for a 7.30pm return flight to Auckland. From Apia it can take 90 minutes over steep mountain roads to reach the tsunami scene on the southern coast.
With a Samoan police car out front, he rode in an air-conditioned New Zealand diplomatic car, driven by a local New Zealand Foreign Affairs Ministry employee, and sped past children and animals standing by the narrow two-lane highway.
The main road passes close to village centres without footpaths and there are often children and stray animals nearby.
New Zealand high commission officials referred media questions to Wellington. Samoan police officials could not be contacted.
In 2004 prime minister Helen Clark was whisked from Waimate to Christchurch Airport at speeds of up to 170kmh so she could make a flight back to Wellington to see an All Blacks rugby test.
- with NZPA
- The Dominion Post
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