A 40-minute drive from the historic heart of Dubai, a new frontier of this mega-city is being built in the desert.
In the 35C heat and dust, 37,000 workers are toiling to build Expo 2020. Projects worth billions of dollars are underway as the opening date looms in October next year.
It's the emirate's next big play in its relentless growth of the past four decades, and one it hopes will stimulate an economy that has been losing some steam.
Workers are masked up to protect them from fierce dust storms which have hit Dubai earlier in summer than usual, and special protection has been put in place for them in the notoriously harsh conditions.
The Expo site, covering an area the size of 440 football pitches, looks like an impossible tangle of enormous steel framing and concrete in a giant sandpit.
The road to it is up to six lanes wide — each way — and smooth as glass. Alongside is the latest leg of the fully automated Dubai Metro, stretching beyond its current 75km length, which will be open in time for the Expo's opening.
The local lore is that this place builds so quickly Google Maps can't keep up, and while some central Dubai projects have reportedly stalled in the worst downturn since the global financial crisis, out at Expo dozens of tower cranes are in constant action.
This is where New Zealand hopes to make a big statement among the 190 other countries that are confirmed participants in the six-month-long event that hopes to attract 25 million people.
This country is spending $53.4 million to build and operate its "modest sized pavilion" at Expo, the first New Zealand has attended since Shanghai in 2010.
Commissioner-General to Expo 2020, Clayton Kimpton, says this country's presence is aimed at shifting perceptions of New Zealand and that comes with an "enormous" price tag.
The last Government signed off on the Expo mission, — there was little reaction to the decision by the then Opposition — and Kimpton says the Coalition Government is supportive.
The Christchurch mosques massacre made it more important than ever to be present near the heart of the strongly Muslim region.
"It hasn't changed our decision to be at Expo; if anything, it's fantastic that we are there," he says.
What had changed was that the world sat and watched how New Zealand responded to what happened in Christchurch.
The projection of the image of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern embracing a Muslim woman onto the Burj Kalifa — the world's tallest building — was a very clear sign of support in Dubai.
"That was a tremendously unusual thing for the rulers of Dubai to do. In fact, I had some people ask me if New Zealand had paid to put it up there like an advertisement," says Kimpton, who is based in Dubai.
"That showed the level of honour they bestowed on us for the response that New Zealand made to an attack on the Muslim community."
The attitude of a saffron seller in the lively souks of the old town last week bears this out.
Chatting after the deal is done (honour on both sides — he made a profit and I got some cheap saffron) he talks of how terrible the shooting in Christchurch was and his disgust at it being livestreamed on social media.
And the salesman, who didn't want his name used, knows of New Zealand's reaction.
"I love what your president did," he says in reference to Ardern.
New Zealand's reaction was still being covered last week, when the passage of laws to ban assault weapons was covered in the Dubai and regional newspapers.
Dubai is the commercial hub of the United Arab Emirates, which in turn is part of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC).
Between them, the GCC countries are our seventh largest export destination.
The GCC is made up of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain, and in 2017 New Zealand goods and services exports totalled $1.98 billion.
Total two-way trade was worth $4.66b, with the imbalance being caused by oil imports.
A Cabinet paper prepared before New Zealand's participation got the green light in early 2107, put the case for taking part in the Expo, the biggest ever held.
Among the arguments in favour:
• The UAE's strategic importance in the region
• Mutual support by the UAE and New Zealand for each other's candidacies for international bodies
• Dubai is a magnet for international visitors
• The UAE's support for New Zealand's bid for a free trade agreement with GCC countries
The paper noted that the relationship with the UAE was advanced and maintained on sound commercial and economic grounds, but this country operated in an environment where it competed with other countries to attract services and investment as well as gain access to markets.
"This event is the most important on the UAE calender and the UAE is looking to its friends to participate and help make Expo 2020 a success."
The paper does say benefits and risks are difficult to accurately estimate.
"Officials assess the benefits of participation in Expo 2020 far outweigh the risks and the benefit cost ratio conservatively estimates an economic return greater than the cost."
Kimpton says Treasury has estimated a monetised benefit of 3 per cent to 4 per cent over the investment. He is confident trade with the region will be boosted.
"On top of that there is the non-monetised benefit — improving our relationship, retaining Emirates flights and building our diplomatic footprint up there."
Other aims include attracting more foreign investment to the "right, targeted places", boosting the number of students from Europe and GCC countries, exporting education services to the GCC and encouraging the growth of tourism by visitors who can afford to spend more here.
At the Shanghai expo in 2010, nearly all the visitors were Chinese.
Next year's event will attract a much different profile of visitor, with more than 70 per cent expected to be visitors to Dubai.
Kimpton says this diverse audience will help shift perceptions about this country.
"New Zealanders think we're really well known and our value propositions are very well known [but] if you look at NZ Story group research, what people know about us is very limited," he says.
What you get for $54m
The aim is to stand out from the crowd of 190 countries, many with much bigger budgets and greater name recognition by virtue of their size and power.
The 2000sqm pavilion will feature an 18m tall exhibition space, a 100-seat restaurant and other areas for what will be super-charged networking.
It has been designed by Jasmax architects, with engineering by Mott MacDonald, and Special Group will tell the story in the experiential part of the pavilion.
"We're using height and a best-in-the-world movie experience to create a lens which will be immersive, emotional and awe inspiring," says Kimpton.
The experience will be based on the concept of kaitiakitanga — "Care for People and Place" — and was inspired by waka taonga, receptacles to safeguard items of intrinsic value.
He says the aim is to shift perceptions away from this country so it is seen not just as a fantastic place to visit, but an innovative, distinctive country with Māori values at the core of what it does.
New Zealand companies can pay to use the exhibition space for promotional events. Sponsorship is also being sought in cash or in kind, on top of the $53.4m spend.
The Expo group is part of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and has a nine-strong management team. It has outsourced operational functions, including catering for the pavilion, where hospitality will spearhead the networking push.
Emirates Flight Catering (EKFC) won the contract to provide food, and operates one of the largest food operations in the world with its base at Dubai International Airport covering the area of 28 football fields.
It produces an average of 225,000 meals a day for Emirates and other carriers.
The vice-president of business development — Expo 2020 at EKFC, Daniel Wells, says New Zealand suppliers have great scope to make a mark at the Dubai.
The airline already serves New Zealand venison in some premium cabins and Wells has recently been in this country talking to dozens of potential suppliers of food, wine, craft beer and non-alcoholic drinks.
"The supply chain is a key component of making sure of success. We've got to make sure that producers can gear up for the numbers we are expecting."
The lead chef at the pavilion is a Kiwi and EKFC is scoping the possibility of getting other New Zealand food workers in Dubai for the Expo.
It's envisaged that 40 to 50 staff will be needed to operate the pavilion.
Wells says there are opportunities for suppliers from this country outside the New Zealand space.
Emirates will have a big presence at the event; its pavilion in the mobility section will feature the "future of flight" and EKFC is catering other venues, expecting to serve 120,000 meals a day.
Opportunity — and cost
The Middle East Business Council sees New Zealand's participation as providing renewed impetus in the region. Its chairman Stewart Germann says Government support, particularly at the top level, is essential.
"If it was a prime ministerial visit it would go down very well," he says. "The Government needs to push more to get involved."
Building trade and economic relationships in the Gulf needs the personal touch and takes time, he says.
"You just can't go up for the day and expect results." Germann says IT companies have big scope to expand in the GCC, where he was confident a long-promised free trade agreement can be concluded.
"We'll get there in the end but the timing is just uncertain."
While the council wants to see increased Government support for the Expo by getting to the region, Act leader David Seymour remains opposed to public funding of the event.
He criticised National when it announced New Zealand was going to Expo, and says continued support from the Coalition "showed providing handouts for politically-connected businesses is now a bi-partisan endeavour".
Seymour says anyone could find out about New Zealand exporters on the internet.
"The vast majority of New Zealand's 530,000 businesses won't see any benefit from this taxpayer-funded largesse. If the Government was really interested in supporting the private sector, it would end corporate welfare and provide tax cuts for all businesses."
Building in 40C heat
The executive director of Expo 2020's Dubai bureau, Najeeb Mohammed Al Ali, told the Herald work was all on track for the overall project, which will become a high-tech 5G enabled mini-city after the event.
"Our goal is to finish major construction around a year before the event opens."
Working conditions on Dubai building sites are notoriously harsh, with summer temperatures averaging 40C.
And although workers, mainly from the subcontinent, are provided with accommodation and food, there is no minimum wage and almost all the average wage of around $400 to $500 a month is sent home. Last year Indian workers sent $17b back home.
In response to questions about working conditions, the Dubai Expo organisation says it has put in place "world class" policies, standards and processes that protect and support workers' health, safety and wellbeing.
It has a dedicated worker welfare team made up of sector and regional specialists. In addition to incorporating UAE law, there are an extra 117 requirements bound into every Expo 2020 Dubai contract.
Half of these additional standards relate to employment practices, while the other half link to workers' accommodation and management practices.
"We have also brought on board several internationally renowned bodies to support oversight, including the UK's Health and Safety Executive, risk consultancy Control Risks, and audit firm PwC."
New Zealand is also imposing its own rules It wants the Care for People and Place theme translated through to all people working on the pavilion — from those involved in its construction to the staff in its restaurant.
On top of the local laws and the Expo-specific requirements, all contractors working on the New Zealand pavilion will also be required to adhere to New Zealand legislation — the Health and Safety at Work Act.
• 78 weeks away
• 25 million visitors expected over six months
• 70 per cent of visitors from countries other than UAE
• 1st World Expo in the Middle East, Africa or South Asia
• 438ha site
• 40,000 construction workers on site
• 30,000 volunteers have signed up to help during event
• 190 countries participating
• 80 per cent of infrastructure will remain (although NZ pavilion will be deconstructed)
• 1881 was the first expo — the Great Exhibition at London's Crystal Palace
• $53.4m being spent on NZ pavilion
• $4.5b in two-way trade with Gulf region
• The Herald travelled to Dubai courtesy of Emirates