Queen Elizabeth II

Page 3 – Royal tours

New Zealand received its first visit from a reigning monarch during the ‘royal summer’ of 1953–54, when the young Queen Elizabeth II toured the country with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. ‘They were greeted with a frenzy which is hard to imagine today’, former Prime Minister David Lange recalled in 2005. ‘The enthusiasm of the public was near-universal and certainly demonstrative.’

Later tours by the Queen

6–18 February 1963: The Queen attended celebrations at Waitangi and the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council was established as a gift to her.
12–30 March 1970: The Queen participated in the James Cook bicentenary celebrations and introduced Prince Charles and Princess Anne to New Zealand.
30 January – 8 February 1974: Accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne and her husband Captain Mark Phillips, and Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, the Queen attended the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch and New Zealand Day events at Waitangi.
22 February – 7 March 1977: Part of a Commonwealth tour to mark the Queen’s Silver (25th) Jubilee. The itinerary followed that of 1953–54 and the couple visited 11 centres; the Queen opened the Beehive, Parliament’s new executive wing.
12–20 October 1981: A short visit following a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Melbourne.
22 February – 2 March 1986: An extension of visits to Nepal and Australia; the Queen visited six centres.
1–16 February 1990: The Queen closed the Commonwealth Games in Auckland and took part in events marking the sesquicentennial of the Treaty of Waitangi.
1–10 November 1995: The Queen attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Auckland.
22–27 February 2002: The Queen visited New Zealand as part of the commemoration of her Golden (50th) Jubilee. This was her last visit to the country.

About three out of every four New Zealanders saw the Queen as she visited 46 centres and attended 110 functions. Ten thousand flooded into Tirau (population 600) to see her. Crowds gathered hours beforehand, bringing butter boxes to stand on or periscopes with which to get a better view. One diehard royalist claimed to have seen the Queen 30 times. Most dressed in their best clothes and waved Union Flags (rather than New Zealand ones).

In 1953–54 New Zealanders went to extraordinary lengths to present their best face to royalty – and to the world. ‘Sheep were dyed in the patriotic colours of red, white and blue; in New Plymouth both bowling club members and the local pony club formed into an E on the ground’, Jock Phillips wrote. ‘Screens were erected to hide unsightly buildings, and citizens were instructed when and how to plant blue lobelias, red salvias and white begonias.’

David Lange, who sang for the Queen as a schoolboy in 1953, recalled that ‘roads were sealed so she could drive along them, or in the case of the road from Kaikohe to Whangārei, the half she drove on was sealed and the other half finished many years afterwards.’

Over time, royal tours became less formal. Indeed, ‘informality was the keynote’ became a journalistic cliché.

The Queen’s Silver Jubilee tour of 1977 came closest to recapturing the spark of the 1953–54 tour. But attitudes were changing, and some New Zealanders will have smiled to read that the Wellington City Council had given the Wellington Harbour Board ‘a gentle reminder that the Queen might not like to see a wharf full of containers when she visits the Capital.’

Royal travel became less ostentatious after the decommissioning of the royal yacht Britannia in 1997. For decades New Zealanders had become accustomed to seeing the big ship escorted around the country by a Royal New Zealand Navy frigate. When the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh made their final visit in 2002 to mark her Golden Jubilee, they travelled by commercial aircraft.

Other members of the royal family have paid many visits to New Zealand to support charities, to recognise significant milestones and to represent the Queen. In 1983, photographers caught a famous image of the Prince and Princess of Wales relaxing on the lawn of Government House, Auckland, while young Prince William played with a buzzy-bee toy. Since that first visit, William has visited New Zealand on a number of occasions. In 2010 he opened the new Supreme Court building in Wellington. While there, the casually dressed prince joined Prime Minister John Key for a barbecue at Premier House. William returned in March the following year to mark the November 2010 Pike River mine disaster and the Christchurch earthquake of February 2011, and again in 2014, this time accompanied by his wife Catherine and their infant son George.

In 2012 members of the royal family celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee by visiting all the Commonwealth countries of which she was head of state, while the Queen concentrated her efforts in the United Kingdom. New Zealand was visited by Prince Charles, accompanied by Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. The Queen gave up official overseas travel in 2015, with her children and grandchildren taking on responsibility for royal tours and attendance at Commonwealth events.

How to cite this page

'Royal tours', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/queen-elizabeth/royal-tours, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-May-2023