British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there was a "deep trust" between New Zealand and Britain but the relationship could be even closer.

Mr Hague is visiting New Zealand with Defence Secretary Liam Fox. It is the first time in about 20 years that a British foreign secretary has visited New Zealand - Mr Hague said last night that exactly how long was in dispute.

At a reception last night at Auckland Museum, Mr Hague said the shared history of the countries was a tremendous strength "but the challenge now is to build an even stronger shared future and we are confident that our relationship will become even still closer for our mutual benefit."

New Zealand was "a hotbed of innovation and is known as such in the UK with great intellectual capital".

Those great ideas needed some direct foreign investment to commercialise and Britain as the leading global finance centre could provide some of the capital to doso.

Mr Hague said that in military matters, matters of national security and intelligence "the relationship between our countries is one of deep trust".

The armed forces served together in Afghanistan to make their countries safer and more secure just as they had done so often in the last century.

He said more could be made of the network of 54 Commonwealth nations that made up 31 per cent of the world's population.

On a solemn note he said that both countries had a great deal in common and felt it, too.

"When you have experienced in recent times a devastating earthquake or the Pike River [mining] disaster, we follow and feel these things too."

Mr Hague and Dr Fox will hold discussions today with their counterparts, Murray McCully and Wayne Mapp, and Prime Minister John Key will host a dinner tonight for the visitors, who also went to Australia and Hong Kong.

The ministers attended a reception last night at the Maritime Museum in Auckland.

Mr Hague, who is on his first trip to New Zealand, joked that he felt "enormously at home" with Auckland's traffic chaos.

He will speak to a closed-door business audience this morning and sign an agreement with New Zealand recognising the joint work Britain and New Zealand are doing in their respective hosting roles of the Rugby World Cup and 2012 Olympics.

Mr Hague, Dr Fox and the British military chief General Sir David Richards were greeted with a powhiri when they arrived at Whenuapai yesterday.

Mr McCully, Dr Mapp, and Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae were there to greet their counterparts.

Despite it being a generation since a British foreign secretary visited, diplomatic contact between countries has been maintained but it has tended to be London-based diplomacy.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair visited for a day in 2006 when he was in the region, but that was as much in recognition of a close social democratic ally in Helen Clark.

With the focus in the past 10 years on military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain's major focus has been on its No 1 relationship with the United States and the European Union.

Since taking office last May, Mr Hague has embarked on a bid to invigorate his country's bilateral relationships and to instruct officials to align diplomatic policy more with Britain's economic interests - not least the high-growth Asia Pacific region.

Mr McCully has met him on several occasions.

He said Mr Hague made it clear from their earliest contact in Opposition that he wanted to step up engagement in the region, that he wanted to be closer to economic development in Asia, take a more active role in development, and that he wanted to reinvigorate the Commonwealth.

He said it was hard to find the time in Government so he was delighted that Mr Hague has given this visit priority.

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