The body of Corporal Douglas Hughes has been repatriated from Afghanistan at a sombre ceremony at Whenuapai.
Corporal Hughes, 26, died while off-duty at a forward base in Bamiyan province last week in what has been described as a non-combat fatality.
Colleagues in Afghanistan farewelled the soldier known as "Dougie" at Bagram Air Base before his body was flown back to New Zealand on Australian and New Zealand C-130 Hercules transport planes.
His body was met by family members and a small contingent of Defence Force personnel at a ramp ceremony at Whenuapai about 9.30pm yesterday.
Senior military and civilian Defence Force personnel paid their respects to Corporal Hughes and his family at the ceremony, which was also attended by the Police Commissioner Peter Marshall.
His family today released a statement in which they spoke of their relief at Corporal Hughes' return.
"This has been an extremely difficult last few days for our family, but we are encouraged by all the support we have received from Dougie's friends and the wider community, and we are very relieved to have him back in New Zealand," the family said.
"We realise now how much of an impact Dougie had on those with whom he socialised with and worked with during his time in the NZ Army. He was a much loved soldier, son, brother and friend to so many people."
The family said they were extremely proud of what he had achieved during his army career, and their focus was to make sure he got the farewell he deserved.
"Once he is back in our arms, we will take him back to Kaikohe where he will lie in state on the family marae.
"So many people held deep admiration for Dougie, and we have been humbled by all the family who have chosen to travel from America, the UK, South Africa and Australia and support the whanau."
After a coroner's examination, Corporal Hughes will be taken by his family to Tuakau while final arrangements are made for his tangi in Kaikohe on Thursday.
Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said the military profession was all about bravery and sacrifice.
"The ramp ceremony signifies the respect and honour that the military pays to its fallen soldiers," he said.
He acknowledged the support of the Australian Defence Force in repatriating Corporal Hughes.
"The NZ Defence Force are extremely grateful for the assistance provided by the Royal Australian Air Force which enabled Dougie to come back home as expeditiously as possible.
"Leading up to Anzac Day, it is a very poignant reminder of the close relationship that we share with the Australian Defence Force."
The Defence Force has launched an investigation into Corporal Hughes' death.