Key Points:

Corporal Willie Apiata has been conferred with the Victoria Cross in a ceremony this morning at Government House in Wellington.

Governor-General Anand Satyanand pinned the award on Cpl Apiata in a ceremony attended by his family, army colleagues and Prime Minister Helen Clark.

After the ceremony, Cpl Apiata said today's ceremony had been "a very emotional and humbling experience".

"I feel very honoured and proud to be able to wear this for my country."

He thanked the dignitaries present but also had a special word for his fellow Kiwis.

Cpl Apiata said: "To all the New Zealanders out there who have supported me and sent me all those messages, I am still reading them and I will read them all. They are very heart-warming messages and I thank you for all your support."

Mr Satyanand said New Zealand could only express pride in his "extraordinary display of heroism".

"This award not only reflects the dedication skill and professionalism of the New Zealand SAS, but also your own special courage and character."

Cpl Apiata, from the eastern Bay of Plenty town of Te Kaha, earned his award by rescuing an injured fellow soldier under enemy fire while both were serving with the Special Air Service (SAS) in Afghanistan in 2004.

His citation read: "In total disregard of his own safety, Lance Corporal Apiata stood up and lifted his comrade bodily.

"He then carried him across the 70 metres of broken, rocky and fire swept ground, fully exposed in the glare of battle to heavy enemy fire and into the face of returning fire from his main troop position.

"Having delivered his wounded companion to relative shelter with the remainder of the patrol, Lance Corporal Apiata re-armed himself and rejoined the fight in counter-attack."

Cpl Apiata is one of only 13 living recipients of the Victoria Cross.

He is the first to be conferred with the Victoria Cross for New Zealand, instituted in 1999.

It continues the tradition of the Victoria Cross previously awarded under a British Royal Warrant.

Cpl Apiata shook hands and engaged in a hongi with the Governor-General, before standing solemnly for photographers.