Clark's postcard from Godzone

The PM is spending five days hosting a tiki tour of New Zealand that will be seen by millions around the globe. FRANCESCA MOLD reports.

Prime Minister Helen Clark's journey of Discovery came to Parliament yesterday before heading back on the road to Rotorua and the Waitomo Caves.

After jetboating on Queenstown's Shotover River and kayaking around the Abel Tasman National Park, the Prime Minister mounted the steps to the place she works, filmed by a crew from the Discovery channel.

During a break in filming Parliament's debating chamber yesterday, Helen Clark defended her decision to front the documentary, which has come under attack from the Opposition.

She said the publicity the documentary would bring New Zealand could not be bought.

It is part of a series in which national leaders show off their country.

It started with a programme featuring King Abdullah II of Jordan, who was filmed on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Four other heads of state will appear over the next three years.

The Prime Minister said the filming had been hard work, with several 5.30am starts.

"I've come to the conclusion that making films and documentaries is 90 per cent standing around and 10 per cent action," she said. "But when you're combining the two jobs it makes for some very long days."

While waiting for lights and cameras to be dismantled and moved, the Prime Minister returned calls on her cellphone and read Government papers.

The filming is taking place while Parliament is in recess and Helen Clark said it was the only time she could make herself available for five days in a row.

She would usually be working in her electorate, travelling to openings and other functions and catching up with a backlog of Government work.

Filming ends today at Waihi Beach, where Helen Clark's parents live.

The documentary has raised some criticism that the Prime Minister is fronting a promotional documentary in an election year and some Government money is being used.

Taxpayers contributed $250,000 on accommodation and transport costs for the Prime Minister and the Discovery crew, which is headed by top United States travel correspondent Peter Greenberg.

The National Party yesterday condemned the spending of taxpayers' money on a travel programme featuring the Prime Minister, saying it would be used to promote her in an election year.

National MP Murray McCully, a former Minister of Tourism, said tourism and trade organisations had always engaged in promotional partnerships, but prime ministers had not fronted them.

"We haven't had prime ministers funded, courtesy of the taxpayer, with their travel to do it," he said.

" I think when you're starting to get into this sort of stuff in election year then you have to ask those questions."

Mr McCully said that while in Opposition Helen Clark had strongly criticised the National Government for giving money to an America's Cup promotion.

"This is a Government that got elected, to some extent, on the back of criticising a previous government promoting New Zealand by promoting major activities," he said.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive George Hickton said the organisation was picking up the bill for local costs incurred by the crew.

But the overall expenses covered by Discovery would exceed $800,000, he said.

Mr Hickton said Tourism NZ was "rapt" that Helen Clark had agreed to appear in the documentary.

Tourism NZ had a $55 million promotional budget and spent about $2 million each year bringing in about 400 international journalists to write about New Zealand.

"This is basically what we do," he said. "We try to encourage people to come to New Zealand to film the country and present it on international television.

"Despite what others might say, this is extremely good value, we've at last got this key person here. It is good for New Zealand, you can't deny that."

The programme will screen on the Travel Channel, which about 60 million viewers have access to, and the pay-TV Discovery channel which has a potential audience of 120 million.

Tourism NZ said it had been trying to get Mr Greenberg to film in New Zealand for several years, and it had taken seven months to organise the trip.

Mr Greenberg is the travel editor for NBC, chief correspondent for the Discovery Network and the Travel Channel and editor-at-large for the National Geographic Traveller magazine. The programme will screen this year.

After filming ends on Sunday, Helen Clark will return to Auckland and then fly to Britain to attend the Queen Mother's funeral, spending 48 hours in the air and only 36 hours on the ground.

"It's amazing - I get a lot done on a trip like that," she said.

"You've got 24 hours on the plane. It's very peaceful."

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