The Far North has had its highest-powered visit from China to date, with a party chairman from Liaoning province spending two days in the district with an entourage of trade and foreign affairs officials.
Liaoning, an industrial powerhouse with 44 million people in northeastern China, has had a sister region relationship with the Far North since 2000. The 10-strong delegation had a formal welcome at the Copthorne Hotel in Waitangi on Tuesday followed by a Bay of Islands cruise and dinner at the Duke of Marlborough hosted by Mayor Wayne Brown. Yesterday they visited Kerikeri's Stone Store, the Pear Tree, Mt Pokaka timber mill and Ake Ake restaurant before heading to Auckland. The only other place on their itinerary was Queenstown.
As well as the party chairman for Liaoning province, Wang Min, the group included the directors and deputy directors of Liaoning's trade and foreign affairs offices, and journalists.
The group was shown around Mt Pokaka, Kerikeri's biggest employer, where Mr Wang questioned mill owner Mark Hewitt about production volumes, unit prices, timber treatment methods and the use of sawdust to heat the drying kilns.
Mr Wang told the Advocate his impressions of the Far North were of incredibly beautiful landscapes and happy people living in an ecologically sound manner.
The purpose of the visit was to enhance friendships and build economic ties, Mr Wang said.
A Liaoning company already owned a forest in Northland and the province co-operated with Fonterra and a New Zealand energy company.
"But most interesting of all, we have high school students studying in the Far North," he said, referring to a new exchange programme with Kerikeri High School.
He was also keen to expand tourism.