It is not done to run at Balmoral if you are in a hurry. Instead, walking fast - let's call it the Balmoral scuttle - was advised.

However, it was I rather than Prime Minister John Key and his family who breached protocol first when the Range Rovers delivering them to Balmoral on the Friday night pulled up from a different side than expected.

I embarked on an unseemly (and rather noisy, given court shoes were the order of the day for the court season they were named after) sprint around the small portico entranceway to reposition myself.

Nonetheless, the next day we were allowed back for the start of Mr Key's private audience with the Queen.


Each time I and the other NZ media representative allowed in pulled up and started to collect our gear to walk to the gates, a police car would appear from nowhere to see what we were doing. Paparazzi-watch is a fulltime occupation for the police around Balmoral in the court season.

It is a rare event to allow the media in to photograph at Balmoral, which is the Queen's private holiday retreat.

Then again, it is a rare event for the Prime Minister of New Zealand and his family to be invited to spend the weekend there as well - unprecedented as far as anyone can tell.

There was a quick run through the protocol - a curtsy for me or a nod of the head to the Queen for the male TVNZ cameraman were optional. The cameraman nodded and I opted to curtsy, if only to compensate for thundering over the forecourt the day before. It is also difficult not to when you are being introduced to the Queen herself.

In the few minutes before the equerry announced the arrival of "the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key", there was a brief and rather delightful exchange - but in keeping with protocol, such chats are deemed private.

That audience was held in the Queen's private sitting room - a lived-in, comfortable room with paperwork piled up and in boxes marked simply "The Queen". Tables were stacked with photos of her family, including one at Mr Key's elbow of the latest addition, Prince George, with his parents, William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The corgis were not invited to the audience, but there were signs that they often did inhabit the room. Dog beds were strewn about the floor and the corridors outside had water bowls - including one in a chamber pot - and bowls of biscuits on shelves for when a snack was required.

The Queen's fondness for her dogs, and the fondness of her predecessors for them, were on display throughout - Balmoral is the most private of all her castles. There was a stuffed toy corgi on one table, of the type sold at the Balmoral gift shop. Portraits of former pets lined one corridor, below the stags' heads and antlers from successful hunts.


On both days we arrived about 6pm, soon after guests had returned from hunting grouse. They were clad in the dull colours of the countryside and tweeds. On the first day, Range Rovers driven by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh had passed us just outside the gates.

The hunting kennels were busy when we walked past, the dogs were being settled in after the day's grouse hunting. Trays of that day's shoot, which was attended by the Queen, the Duke and Prince William, were waiting to be dealt with.

On Saturday evening as we pulled up for the audience, there was the Queen, waiting inside and disarmingly charming.