The Defence Force are to return from Fiji after two months assisting with the recovery from the damage caused by Cyclone Winston in February.

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said HMNZS Canterbury was preparing to leave and expected back in New Zealand on April 21.

Cyclone Winston destroyed the Yasawas High School in Muaira on Naviti Island. Photo / Richard Moore, Moore Media Services
Cyclone Winston destroyed the Yasawas High School in Muaira on Naviti Island. Photo / Richard Moore, Moore Media Services

Mr Brownlee said it had been one of the biggest peacetime deployments New Zealand had undertaken - about 500 personnel were involved, two shops and six aircraft delivering hundreds of tonnes of aid. The Government also committed $15 million of aid to help deal with the aftermath of the disaster. Mr McCully said aid efforts would now shift to reconstruction, such as rebuilding schools, evacuation centres and medical facilities, as well as helping re-boost Fiji's local economy.

Mr Brownlee said as well as helping Fiji, the assistance had helped rebuild relations with Fiji's Government.

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Those relations were tense after the sanctions New Zealand had imposed on Fiji after the 2006 coup. Those sanctions were lifted after Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was elected in democratic elections in 2014 but Bainimarama remained distrustful of New Zealand and Australia, including refusing to attend the Pacific Islands Forum last year.

Both Mr Brownlee and Mr McCully have visited Fiji since then to put in place plans such as more cooperation between the military. Prime Minister John Key met face to face with Mr Bainimarama for the first time in New York last year and has promised to visit Fiji.