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Obama and Key tee off during fleeting NZ visit

Former US President Barack Obama tees off in Northland. - Photo: Twitter: @AirNZ

Former president of the United States Barack Obama spent his first day in New Zealand playing golf with Sir John Key at a luxury course in Northland.

Mr Obama arrived by private jet at midnight and stayed at Sofitel Hotel on Auckland's waterfront before getting on a helicopter this morning to play at Kauri Cliffs golf course in Matauri Bay.

But few people managed to catch a glimpse of the famous leader before he left for the isolated course.

An Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew member, Ati Wynyard, was on duty during Mr Obama's takeoff for Northland this morning.

A crowd of staff, media and others gathered at the pad, but it was Mr Wynyard and the rescue crew with their red jackets that scored a wave from one of the most famous men in the world.

"Well he's definitely someone I never thought I would see in the flesh," he said.

Crew members were alerted to Mr Obama's arrival just 15 minutes before he showed up, Mr Wynyard said.

"You could tell there was something happening, because there were a lot of police eagle units airborne, police were blocking roads and access to the port," he said.

Mr Wynyard said Mr Obama, who was wearing a casual grey outfit and golf shoes, looked relaxed before he boarded.

He had "swagger", he said.

The marketing manager of Inflite Charters, based at Mechanics Bay, Dan Burt was also onsite when Mr Obama flew off to Mataura Bay.

He hoped the weather would stay "shining" on New Zealand so Mr Obama could see its beauty.

The base frequently flies high-profile guests but it was hard to beat hosting the former President of the United States, Mr Burt said.

A worker at Mataura Bay Takeaways and Cafe, Niria Pou-Ruka, was excited to have Mr Obama in the neighbourhood.

"The whole situation is pretty cool," she said.

"We're just little Northland and it gives us exposure - it's not every day you have the ex-president here."

Mayor declines invite in favour of his community

Mr Obama is expected to stay in the Bay of Islands at luxury accommodation The Landing tonight, before returning to Auckland tomorrow for an official welcome led by Ngāti Whātua at Government House.

He'll meet with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern before attending an invite-only event with more than 800 members of the business, Māori and political community.

And while many would drop everything to dine with Mr Obama, one mayor, Greg Brownless of Tauranga, will instead keep his commitment to attend a citizenship ceremony.

Mr Brownless said it was a shame to miss the "once in a lifetime opportunity" but he didn't want to mess up the plans of more than 250 people.

He has offered an open invite for Mr Obama to drop by Mount Maunganui next time he was visiting, Mr Brownless said.

On Friday, Mr Obama will meet with 20 women from the Wāhine Toa Network of Māori women leaders before flying to Australia to meet Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and then continuing on to Japan.


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