Selfies, bids and star power as Jacinda Ardern spends her last day in the sun

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From the moment she arrives, Jacinda Ardern is surrounded by a crowd of people: hundreds gather to ask for their last selfie, record video messages for friends and relatives, or just watch her pass. A group of running children scrapes their legs to get a better view.

Over and over, he compels the camera phone by smiling, asking people’s names and occupations, making jokes, signing a worn-out blue and yellow basketball to a kid who smashes through the crowd.

A politician who has always excelled in moments of humor and human connection, Ardern’s much-discussed star power was definitively on display in the North Island village of Rātana on Tuesday for his final official term as New Zealand prime minister.

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern embraces during the Rātana Celebrations in Whanganui, New Zealand, January 24, 2023.

Ardern is embraced during the Rātana celebrations. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

“It’s like, ‘Touch your cloak like Jesus, touch your cloak,'” one woman laughs at her friend.

“Where is he? Is he coming?” ‘ one girl asked, poking her head out to take a look.

“I just want to thank him,” a woman outside the Rātana temple said to a policeman standing nearby. “For everything.”

A man spends a minute fervently and constantly squeezing her hand.

Related: From stardust to an empty tank: one-of-a-kind leader Jacinda Ardern knew her time was up

“You’re going to have to quit at some point,” a bystander says, and the crowd laughs.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister Kiri Allen swim during the Ratana Celebrations

Ardern and minister Kiri Allen go on a mara during the Rātana celebrations. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

New Zealand – and the world – are still reckoning with Ardern’s shocking departure, the hurricane choice of his replacement, and the question of how to define his political legacy. However, in his last full day as the country’s leader, some of the more thorny and more controversial questions regarding his political legacy and legislative record seemed to have faded into the background.


Rātana traditionally marks the start of New Zealand’s political year, with party leaders descending upon the village to deliver their first big speech after the summer break. This year was different, it was also the end of an era.

The scenes are reminiscent of some of the electric fandom Ardern instigated when she first took the lead in 2017 – they were greeted by hopeful selfie-takers and fans. Five years of tough decisions and political struggles had eroded much of that glow, especially in polls where voters punished the prime minister and his party for a year of economic headwinds.

But on Tuesday, the shine was back. A few yards away, future prime minister Chris Hipkins stands in a circle of reporters answering questions – the crowd mostly not looking at him.

Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi enters the mara during the Rātana Celebrations in Whanganui, New Zealand, on January 24, 2023.

Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi enters the mara during the Rātana celebrations. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

On Tuesday, there was no sign of the small, angry protesters—sometimes carrying banners and anti-vaccine slogans, other times chasing their van and shouting obscene words—who had become an increasingly recurring presence in Ardern’s public appearances.

Ardern said threats and harassment were not factors that contributed to his resignation, but his departure sparked an unsettling reckoning in New Zealand with the scope and volume of misogynistic, violent rhetoric, harassment and threats channeled in the leader’s path. Speaking to reporters briefly, she said her lasting experience with the job was positive.

“I would hate for someone to see my departure as a negative comment about New Zealand,” he said.

“I have experienced such love, compassion, empathy and kindness in my job. This has been my dominant experience. So, I leave with gratitude for taking on this wonderful role over the years… All I have to say are words of thanks.


Tribal dignitaries and politicians took shelter in plastic tents to avoid the blast of the late summer sun while waiting for the prime minister. The grass that covered the roads to the Marae (meeting place) grew long and dry, becoming fiber in the summer heat, signaling the end of a season. As his term ends, the question of Ardern’s continued influence on the direction and tone of New Zealand politics remains unanswered.

Even before reaching the borders of Rātana, Ardern’s figure occupied a large place in the political conversations of the day. Centre-right opposition leader Christopher Luxon did not openly mention the prime minister, but chose to talk about the “politics of kindness” vision he initiated. economics,” he said—just a selection of frameworks that seem to illustrate the extent to which Ardern sets the language and frames of reference for New Zealand’s political speech.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Incoming Labor Party leader and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins arrive during the Rātana Celebrations

Ardern and the new Labor Party leader and prime minister, Chris Hipkins, arrive at the Rātana celebrations. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Most of the leaders paid their tribute more openly. “You were the captain who made the decisions in Waka. [canoe] “This has really led us through difficult times,” said Rahui Papa, a leader of the Tainui and Māori king movements.

“You were the right person to lead our nation in terrible times,” said Che Wilson, the former chairman of the Māori party. “I carry my political allegiances here,” he said, pointing to the Indigenous designs that shaped his outfit, “but prime minister, it’s only right that we thank you,” and the crowd began to applaud.

When asked if it was a word of farewell to the public, the prime minister replied that he would not disappear completely. “You will see me outside and outside, but you will not see me at the center, in the cut and impetus of politics,” he said. When asked if he would miss it, Ardern simply replied, “I will miss the people. Because that was the joy of the job.”


Celebrations in Rātana are a fitting book ending for Ardern’s tenure. In 2018 – just two months into her prime and a few days after her pregnancy with her daughter Neve was announced – she appeared in Rātana. That year, the Rātana elders offered him a Māori middle name for his child: Waru, a sacred number for the Church. In the years that followed, the meeting marked the turning points and moments of Ardern’s tenure as leader and watched her family grow, with Neve occasionally appearing to walk through the crowd chased by security guards.

In a final and brief statement for journalists, Ardern said she’s spending more time in this role—as a mother and family member—that she’s looking forward to.

“I am ready to be many things,” he said. “I am ready to be a back row MP. I am ready to be a sister and a mother.” Then he turned, put on his sunglasses, and stepped away from the last mic set he would face as prime minister.

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