Former US President Barack Obama was left under strict instructions by a small group of Maori women who met with him this morning to bring his wife Michelle Obama when he returns to New Zealand.

And Nancy Gilbert, the wife of former US Ambassador Mark Gilbert, said that will be "when" rather than an "if".

Obama left New Zealand early this afternoon after one final meeting - a brunch with 20 Maori women leaders who are part of the Wahine Toa [strong women] network set up by Gilbert when she was in New Zealand.

After that brunch, Liana Poutu said Obama was "a genuine, nice man" who greeted them with a hongi and made them feel relaxed quickly after a nervous and excited build-up.


She said Obama was "under strict instructions to bring [Michelle Obama] next time he visited. I think that was one of the first things that was said to him when he entered the room. So we're hopeful she will come and spend some time with some of our people as well."

She said she admired Michelle Obama's strength, the way she carried herself. "I think when President Obama was in office there were certain things that she had to do and abide by and now that pressure's been released she can be released to the world and all that she has to offer. I think she's just an inspirational woman."

Gilbert, who set up the Wahine Toa network when in New Zealand, said the womens' wish could well come true: "I think that bringing Michelle with him next time may already be in the works, is what it felt like the entire time he was in New Zealand. There is a great interest in Mrs Obama and the family and they have a great desire to come here. So stay tuned."

Some of the women who met with Barack Obama this morning: Deirdre Otene, left, Liana Poutu, former US Ambassador's wife Nancy Gilbert, and Lynell Huria.
Some of the women who met with Barack Obama this morning: Deirdre Otene, left, Liana Poutu, former US Ambassador's wife Nancy Gilbert, and Lynell Huria.

Poutu said Obama was "like a pro" with the hongi. "And that was special too, that we got to engage at that level with him. Before he left he went around again and hugged us all goodbye so that was special as well. It was a great morning."

He had understood the Kiwi sense of humour and knew a few Maori words - partly because of the similarity to some Hawaiian words.

They said Obama had referred to his own Hawaiian birthplace, saying "a bit of the Polynesian spirit" was in him as well.

The women are all leaders from around the country in their iwi or in local organisations.

Otene said they had discussed how to build leadership at a grassroots level, especially in indigenous communities.

"I think personally to see a man of great stature and who has a standing globally, to be able to come into a space and meet with women, Maori women, and talk about things that are close to us - it's an example for all leaders across the country and across the world."

The women spent almost two hours talking to Obama, who was meeting them as part of his Obama Foundation initiative, focusing on leadership and youth.

Former Ambassador Mark Gilbert said Obama's trip had been a great success.

"You put on some really great weather for us, he enjoyed his time here. Got to meet a lot of Kiwis and see a fair amount of New Zealand from the air which is terrific."

He said Obama's talk had gone well. "He joked last night that this was a reconnaissance trip for the First Lady."

He said Obama had told him he looked forward to returning with Michelle Obama.

Asked about the lack of public interaction or even brief public appearances, Gilbert said it was different now Obama was no longer in office.

He said Obama had spent longer in New Zealand than the other countries on this tour - Singapore, Australia and Japan.

"He wanted to spend some time with John Key, the two of them are very close and get along really well."

However, he said Obama was "very, very competitive" and had even engaged in sledging on the golf course. "He's very, very competitive and even teasingly so on some of the greens, like when somebody was coming up for a putt, calling 'oooh, it's a tough one,' and so on. But because they get along so well, it's easy to do. The fact you can get away with that says how good a relationship you have with that person."

After Key beat him in two games, Obama also teased Key that now he was retired he had done little other than practice golf.

Gilbert was Obama's golf partner at Kauri Cliffs and said it was a great time.

He said it was standard practice for Obama not to talk about US politics or US President Donald Trump.

"It's probably the most difficult job in the entire world so it's hard enough doing it and making the decisions you need to make, but if you were to have your predecessor giving their opinion about something, it makes it even harder."