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HMS Montrose enjoys five magical days in New Zealand

22 January 2019
HMS Montrose swapped Devonport for Devonport as she sailed half-way around the world for a five-day visit to New Zealand.

The Plymouth-based frigate became the first Royal Navy warship in 20 years to call at the home of the Royal New Zealand Navy: HMNZS Philomel in Devonport, Auckland.

The British warship is on a three-year patrol, the bulk of which will be spent in the Gulf which she is reaching by sailing ‘the wrong way around the world’, heading west, not east.

After island-hopping across the Pacific from Chile via Easter and Pitcairn Islands, plus French Polynesia, the Type 23 frigate announced her arrival in New Zealand waters after a 5,500-mile journey by letting rip on the ranges with her 4.5in main gun.

Montrose has re-kindled relationships with our hosts and allies in the Royal New Zealand Navy, demonstrated our capability

Commander Conor O’Neill RN

The crack of gunfire continued as she approached Devonport and an 11-gun salute from her hosts before the ship’s company of HMNZS Canterbury – led by their Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Fi Jamieson who was Montrose’s operations officer during two years on exchange in the UK between 2011 and 2013 – performed a traditional Haka, or war dance, to welcome the visitors.

Once alongside, Montrose’s crew were invited to attend a powhiri – a formal welcome to the spiritual home or marae of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

The ceremony saw the frigate’s Commanding Officer Commander Conor O’Neill as the ‘chief’ of Montrose, accept the wero or challenge, from the New Zealand Navy’s warrior to show that the visitors had come in peace.

Having been accepted as friendly visitors, there were welcome speeches in Maori and English, and a song of welcome from the New Zealand Navy, which Montrose returned by singing Flower of Scotland, accompanied by some local pipers who’d responded to an appeal for some Scottish support a long way from home!

Traditional formalities over Montrose got stuck into the visit: flying the flag for ‘global Britain’ and reinvigorating ties with the Commonwealth Navy – it’s been three years since the White Ensign has been seen in New Zealand (icebreaker HMS Protector in Christchurch).

The frigate hosted a reception and capability demonstration on behalf of British High Commissioner Laura Clarke. She thanked HMS Montrose for highlighting the blight of plastics on Henderson Island during their recent visit to the Pitcairn Island chain, where she also serves as Governor.

The following day, Montrose played host to a Defence Industries Day where the ship’s Wildcat Helicopter was the centre of attention, highlighting its world-beating capabilities to members of the Royal New Zealand Navy and Ministry of Defence.

Away from the ship, Montrose’s sailors experienced a wide-ranging package of adventurous training, from bungee jumps to mountain biking, canyoning to stand-up paddle boarding.

The ship’s netball team beat their hosts, but the rugby squad unsurprisingly lost to the New Zealand Navy All Blacks.

Some crew got the chance to visit the volcanic springs of Rotorua, the metropolis of Auckland and Lord of the Rings Fans couldn’t resist a visit to Hobbiton.

The visit was also a homecoming for Montrose’s Kiwi-born marine engineer Petty Officer Heidi Tait who took the opportunity to proudly show her friends and family around the ship in which she serves.

“Having left New Zealand ten years ago, it was very kind of my employer to bring me all the way home, and give me a chance to see my family!” she said.

Commander O’Neill said the five days in Auckland “delivered on every front”.

“Montrose has re-kindled relationships with our hosts and allies in the Royal New Zealand Navy, demonstrated our capability, undertaken adventurous training and sport and explored an amazing city,” he continued.

“Our time in and around Auckland has definitely been a highlight of our global deployment so far and one we will long remember.”

His ship is now bound for Japan and patrols working with the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force and other allies in the region enforcing UN sanctions against North Korea.

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