A Russian entrepreneur with a passion for rugby has bought an Eden Park corporate box for the Rugby World Cup - and may bring friend Vladimir Putin out to watch a game.
It is all part of a quiet Russian revolution that is taking place north of Auckland.
Businessman Mikhail Khimich has purchased Waiwera Water and Thermal Resort and is investing millions in an attempt to turn the company into the top premium brand water in the world.
The 136-year-old company has launched a major rebranding campaign - Live Up To Legend - with a focus on its Kiwi heritage.
They are enlisting All Black greats Fred Allen and Michael Jones, and Team NZ stars Dean Barker and Grant Dalton to help sell the concept to the world.
Exposure during the Rugby World Cup - where the company has bought a corporate box for the semifinals and finals - is part of the international push. Corporate boxes were going for nearly $500,000 for the full tournament package.
Waiwera Water Thermal Resort general manager Dixon McIvor pointed out that Khimich was also ploughing his roubles into grassroots rugby at Mount Albert Grammar School and the North Harbour Silverdale rugby club. "[The idea] is that those grassroots players aspire to become legends in themselves," said Dixon.
Khimich moves in the highest circles of Russian society, which include Prime Minister Putin.
It remains unclear whether Putin will visit New Zealand for the tournament. "If he does come, he will be welcome in our box," said McIvor.
The story goes that Khimich fell in love with Waiwera water after tasting it at Kermadec restaurant in Auckland in 2008.
Khimich returned the following day to find that the restaurant had sold out of the water. He set up a meeting with Waiwera Hot Pools owner John St Clair Brown and a little over a year later bought a 40 per cent stake in the company. The Overseas Investment Office approved Khimich's investment in the proposed bottling plant land, across the old State Highway 1 from the Waiwera village, in October last year for more than $1 million.
Zzili Global Branding managing director Ilya Rozhdestvensky is running the campaign that they hope will see Waiwera water become the sought-after brand in most of the world's exclusive restaurants and hotels.
Rozhdestvensky said that when Khimich bought Waiwera Water, he asked the question: "What do you think I'm buying? Property, no, a brand, no.
"I'm buying a legend.
"When I heard that I said, 'this is the man, this is the man to dream together'."
Rozhdestvensky came up with the idea of the new House of Waiwera "concept store" in Parnell, an art gallery/installation space which has been fitted out with a grass floor for the next week. Plans are to open a House of Waiwera in Beverly Hills, US, this year, and another in Tokyo.
Tycoon's Cup runneth over with love
It was Mikhail Khimich's love of sailing that first brought him to New Zealand.
His 189ft ketch Thalia was undergoing a major refit back in 2008, and Khimich wanted to check on progress.
While here, the Moscow-based entrepreneur discovered a love for the country, for Maori culture and especially for the haka.
"It's a little bit of brutality, a little bit indigenous spirit of New Zealand," said business associate Ilya Rozhdestvensky.
Now an avid rugby fan, Khimich will be cheering on the All Blacks from his corporate box at Eden Park - and even wants to become a New Zealand resident.
"He fell in love with New Zealand," said Rozhdestvensky.
Khimich made his fortune from property development and minerals and gases, but his associates in New Zealand are reluctant to speak on his behalf. "Mikhail really doesn't like publicity," said Rozhdestvensky. "He's a very modest guy, and extremely pleasant to deal with."
They describe Khimich as a philanthropist, who sent two shipping containers of Waiwera bottled water to Japan after the tsunami.
Waiwera Water Thermal Resort general manager Dixon McIvor said Khimich was well-respected. "He is a very fair, honest man."