The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, 1953–54
It was New Zealand's first visit from a reigning monarch when Queen Elizabeth II (1926–) and her husband, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921–), arrived at Auckland on 23 December 1953 on the Gothic, specially chartered as a Royal yacht for the occasion of an Empire tour. The arrival of this elder daughter of George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who had succeeded her father in 1952, brought a third generation of Royalty to the Dominion.
The Royal couple spent Christmas at Auckland and it was from Government House that the Queen made her Christmas broadcast. The excitement of the occasion and the festive season was marred by the appalling railway accident at Tangiwai on Christmas Eve. While in Auckland the Royal visitors met some survivors of the disaster, and later the Duke broke off his itinerary to attend the State funeral at Wellington of many of the victims.
In each of the four main centres events had a similar pattern. Apart from the usual receptions and ceremonials, there was a command film performance or concert, except in Wellington; a race meeting; and opportunities to inspect local industry or development schemes. A number of special gatherings was addressed by the Duke – in Wellington he spoke before representatives of scientific organisations. Colours were presented to the Royal New Zealand Navy at Devonport and to the Royal New Zealand Air Force at Whenuapai.
Flying to Kaikohe, the Royal party called at Waitangi, Whangarei, and Warkworth. The next part of the tour lay through Pukekohe to Huntly, Hamilton, Te Kuiti, and Waitomo. On the way the Queen was able to meet the Maori “King”, Koroki, at Turangawaewae, a gesture much appreciated. The Queen and Duke then travelled through Te Awamutu and Cambridge, with a stop at the site of the Karapiro hydro-electric project, before passing on to Rotorua which was the scene of a stirring Maori reception on 2 January. For some five days the Royal couple spent a rest period at Moose Lodge on the shores of Lake Rotoiti, and then flew from Rotorua to Gisborne. A journey by road to Napier and Hastings and thence by rail through Palmerston North, Feilding, Marton, Wanganui, and Taranaki, was followed by the flight to Paraparaumu.
Highlights of a stay of six days in Wellington included a special session of Parliament and for this historic occasion Her Majesty wore her coronation gown. It was the first time the sovereign had opened a New Zealand Parliament and, when the Queen was later shown over the House, the first time a reigning monarch had stepped on the floor of a Commonwealth House of Representatives. Her Majesty assented to one Act, the Judicature Act. A Privy Council was also held – it was the first time the monarch had presided over one outside the United Kingdom. (In 1920 at the instigation of the Prince of Wales, himself newly made a Privy Councillor, a meeting had been called in Wellington in order that the Earl of Liverpool, who had recently been called to the Council, could be sworn in.) While in Wellington Her Majesty also laid the foundation stone of the new Anglican cathedral.
Flying to Blenheim and Nelson, the Queen and Duke next visited the West Coast and then proceeded to Christchurch. After a break of a few days at Longbeach, the tour was resumed by road to Timaru and then by rail to Dunedin where the floral decorations were particularly impressive. From Dunedin the Royal party travelled to Invercargill and on 30 January left from Bluff on the Gothic, calling in at Milford Sound before finally leaving the Dominion.