Funeral arrangements for King George Tupou V are still being worked out as a high-ranking noble is due to fly to Hong Kong to oversee the transit of the body back to Tonga, a Tongan government official says.

At a special cabinet session yesterday a state funeral committee asked Lord Ma'afu Tukui'aulahi to leave today to oversee the arrangements. Information and communications secretary Paula Mau said Lord Ma'afu would also need to speak to the new monarch - former Crown Prince Tupouto'a Lavaka Ata, 52, to confirm cause of death.

The King was returning from Italy where he had met Pope Benedict XVI when he was admitted to hospital 11 days ago. His brother the Crown Prince was at his bedside when he died.

Other details also emerged yesterday about the incoming monarch.


Under Tonga's constitution he automatically becomes the king. However, there are still two "vital" details needed to complete the official proclamation, Mr Mau said.

First, the new king needs a new name - which will be left to him to decide upon. He also has to decide on an appropriate period of official mourning.

In Auckland community leaders hope that the King's body will lie in state at the royal residence Atalanga in Epsom before being taken to Tonga.

Tongan Advisory Council spokesman Melino Maka said much would depend on the wishes of the royal family. But he hoped that the 50,000-strong community in New Zealand would have a chance for a final farewell.

Other community leaders believed it would be better if the body went directly to Tonga.

Prime Minister John Key was planning to telephone Tongan Prime Minister Lord Tu'ivakano last night to convey New Zealand's condolences and to offer logistical support if needed.

"I'd like to acknowledge the very valuable contribution the King of Tonga has made in steering Tonga towards democracy and hope this work will continue."

He said New Zealand's relationship with Tonga was incredibly strong.

"It's one that has got a deep history and one where we are lucky enough to have many New Zealanders of Tongan ethnicity."

Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae said the King's reign would be remembered for the transition to democracy.