Britain Foreign Minister Boris Johnson compares Maori greeting with headbutt

At a press conference in New Zealand, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson denies infighting in the Conservative Party.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street after the Cabinet meeting in London in Britain on July 18, 2017.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street after the Cabinet meeting in London in Britain on July 18, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

WELLINGTON (AFP) - Britain's gaffe-prone Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson likened a traditional Maori greeting to a headbutt on Monday (July 24) while visiting indigenous leaders in New Zealand.

Johnson opened his two-day trip with a visit to a marae, or Maori meeting house, in Kaikoura, the South Island town that was hit by a massive earthquake last year.

While there, he was greeted with a hongi, the Maori welcome which involves two people pressing their noses together.

The ritual symbolises participants sharing the breath of life, but Johnson said he was concerned about how it would be received in Scotland, home of the "Glasgow kiss", or headbutt.

"Thank you for teaching me the hongi, I think it is a beautiful form of introduction, though it might be misinterpreted in a pub in Glasgow if you were to try it," he said.

Johnson also quipped that "the marae has a tradition of strong female leadership, which we also have back home", referring to his boss, British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Johnson is on a two-day visit to New Zealand which is expected to focus on trade, foreign policy and international security issues.

While in Wellington, he will also unveil a war memorial and will meet New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English.

It is the former London mayor's first visit to New Zealand.

"I also have to say that this is the most mind-blowingly, mind-numbingly beautiful country that I've ever seen," he said.

"I think probably the only landscape that I can think of that can conceivably do justice to the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord Of The Rings."

Johnson has a history of blunders, including touting the trade benefits of Scotch whisky in a Sikh temple earlier this year, before being told that alcohol was against the religion.

Prior to becoming Britain's top diplomat, he compared United States presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to "sadistic nurse in a mental hospital" and said ex-US president Barack Obama was "part-Kenyan" with "an ancestral dislike of the British Empire".