Tongan king puts on his top hat, brushes off his cane

STATELY ATTIRE: Tonga's King George Tupou V inspects the guard of honour at  Government House in Wellington during yesterday's state welcome.
ANDREW GORRIE/ The Dominion Post
STATELY ATTIRE: Tonga's King George Tupou V inspects the guard of honour at Government House in Wellington during yesterday's state welcome.

A fair amount of pomp and ceremony is usual at official state welcomes, but Tonga's King George Tupou V added his own flair to yesterday's gathering, arriving in a top hat and carrying a cane.

King George arrived in New Zealand on Saturday, but it was unclear what he was doing before his official itinerary began in Palmerston North with a visit to Linton army camp on Monday afternoon.

Yesterday he received an official state welcome at Government House before meeting Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader Phil Goff.

Mr Key said he was interested to hear from King George on how the constitutional reforms were going but would also discuss Afghanistan and former Fijian Lieutenant Colonel Tevita Mara, who sought refuge in Tonga.

"[Tonga] are a good friend. New Zealand's often, I think, tried to play a leadership role in the Pacific along with Australia. Tonga and Samoa have been good friends, so has Fiji, but we're keen to see them move to democratically held elections."

About half of New Zealand's aid budget now went to the Pacific so it was important those relationships stayed strong, he said.

New Zealand aid to Tonga was $17 million in 2010/2011.

Tonga had done a good job on moving to democracy, Mr Key said.

After the meetings, King George was treated to a dinner of Akaroa salmon, wild South Island venison served with portobello mushrooms and blackberry and gin juices, followed by a poached pear and almond frangipane tart.

His tour is the first official visit by a Tongan monarch since his father, King Tupou IV, came in 2000.

King George studied for two years at King's College in Auckland before being sent to Leys School in Cambridge, England. He later attended Oxford University, as well as the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

Since the king's 2008 coronation, Tonga has introduced constitutional reforms and now has 17 elected people's representative MPs and nine noble representatives.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, who will visit Tonga next week, sat in on Mr Key's meeting with King George.

King George stayed the last two nights at Government House. He leaves today for Auckland but it was unclear where he would go after that.

Neither the Tongan high commission in Petone, nor Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials, could confirm where King George was outside of the 1 1/2-day official itinerary.

The Dominion Post