Barack Obama landed in New Zealand early this morning - and our own former Prime Minister, John Key, and his family are already on their way north for a golfing rendezvous with the former president.

Obama is on his first visit to New Zealand and organisers are pulling out all the stops - from actor Sam Neill as one of his hosts, to flying in chef Peter Gordon from London to cook for him.

The 44th president of the United States of America landed in a private Gulfstream jet at Auckland International Airport at 12.13am on Wednesday after spending two days in Singapore. There was a heavy police presence.

Bronagh and John Key prepare to board a helicopter this morning. Photo / TVONE
Bronagh and John Key prepare to board a helicopter this morning. Photo / TVONE

At 7.45 this morning, John Key, wife Bronagh and son Max arrived at the Mechanics Bay heliport in central Auckland, with their golf clubs.

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A Crown vehicle believed to be carrying Obama leaves the Auckland airport around 12.30am. Photo / Brett Phibbs
A Crown vehicle believed to be carrying Obama leaves the Auckland airport around 12.30am. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Police officers were milling outside a hotel in Auckland's city centre about 7am today, where former Obama is said to be staying. He was expected to also head to the heliport.

Three officers were stationed outside the hotel's front doors this morning.

A worker at the hotel maintained to the Herald the heavy police presence was because a police conference was being held at the venue this week. All the officers are wearing stab-proof vests.

A heavy police presence was visible outside the hotel where Barack Obama is believed to be staying. Photo / Alice Peacock
A heavy police presence was visible outside the hotel where Barack Obama is believed to be staying. Photo / Alice Peacock

Obama is expected to fly to Northland by helicopter for golf with former Prime Minister Sir John Key and others, believed to be at Kauri Cliffs and possibly the Tara Iti Golf Club at Te Arai.

Obama is tipped to stay at The Landing luxury home in Northland tonight before returning to Auckland tomorrow for an official welcome at Government House.

There he will experience his first powhiri and hongi - it is understood officials have been asked to send detailed information about the process and meaning of the hongi for him.

Former President of The United States Barack Obama arrives at Auckland International Airport around midnight. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Former President of The United States Barack Obama arrives at Auckland International Airport around midnight. Photo / Brett Phibbs

He will also meet Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern before an invite-only dinner and speaking event with about 1000 people, organised by the NZ-US Council and paid for by Air NZ, Mastercard and Westpac.

Air NZ has flown New Zealand-born chef Peter Gordon from London to oversee that dinner and it will also include a range of fine New Zealand wines such as Te Mata Estate and Craggy Range.

Obama has been brought to New Zealand by the NZ-US Council to promote the relationship between the two countries which was icy for many years over New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy.

Obama will be interviewed by actor Sam Neill and the MC for the evening will be poet laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh.

There are few opportunities for the public to see Obama - the only event media can film is the powhiri and hongi at Government House.

The former US President’s visit has been kept very under wraps, with some engagements made public.

National Party leader Simon Bridges is to attend Obama's event on Thursday night, saying the novelty factor of meeting a US president was the drawcard.

"I'm not saying I'm a devotee but I've never met a US president and so I'm pretty excited. I'm looking forward to hopefully getting a chance to briefly meet him."

However, the invite list did raise some eyebrows - while some backbenchers are on it Trade Minister David Parker did not make the cut despite the trade and export focus of the NZ-US.

Parker's lack of an invite was possibly an oversight or because of political sensitivities around the TPP, which Obama had championed and brought the US in to before Trump withdrew from it.

Those who turned down invites included Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who was to meet Obama earlier and Green Party co-leader James Shaw who had another appointment in his climate-change portfolio.

NZ First leader and Foreign Minister Winston Peters was also going to be a no-show – he was staying in Wellington at Parliament – but MP Shane Jones is attending. Speaker Trevor Mallard was also attending as were National MPs Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi and Alfred Ngaro.

Former US president Barack Obama will fly to Northland by helicopter this morning for golf with former prime minister Sir John Key and others. Photo / Getty Images
Former US president Barack Obama will fly to Northland by helicopter this morning for golf with former prime minister Sir John Key and others. Photo / Getty Images

It is understood about 35 MPs were invited by the NZ-US Council and its co-sponsors Air NZ, Mastercard and Westpac.

Those companies are footing Obama's appearance fee, which has not been divulged.

Of those 21 were from Government parties, Labour, NZ First and the Greens.

However, more National MPs were invited than Labour MPs – perhaps because of its larger caucus.

US Ambassador Scott Brown is also likely to be at the speaking event - although he was the appointee of Obama's successor, Donald Trump.

A spokeswoman for the US Embassy said it was security policy not to comment in advance on the Ambassador's plans. "What I can say is that it would be natural for the Ambassador to be invited and attend this kind of event."

Former US Ambassador Mark Gilbert – a friend of the Obamas – has also travelled over from the US for the golf games. Gilbert and wife Nancy helped organise the Obama Foundation event with Maori women leaders – Nancy Gilbert had set up the "wahine toa" programme to meet those leaders in her time in New Zealand.

Despite the secrecy surrounding the trip and lack of public opportunities, the Government is providing some support for the visit because of Obama's status.

About $50,000 is expected to be spent from a fund to host VIP visitors for things such as transport in the Crown limos, airport facilitation and some security.

Police are likely to be involved in security around the locations Obama will be at. A spokesman said they did not comment on individuals.

"New Zealand police has extensive experience of policing visits by a wide range of high-profile individuals, however we do not discuss specific security matters regarding those individuals."