Ms Ardern arrived at the annual birthday celebration for MÄori prophet TahupÅtiki Wiremu RÄtana, being held at the Ratana meeting grounds, the home of an Indigenous Mori religious movement.
Dressed in traditional Korowai – a MÄori feathered cloak – the outgoing prime minister was greeted with embraces and songs, which marked her last appearance as New Zealand’s prime minister before she steps down next month.
Ms Ardern was asked at the event what piece of advice she would give to her successor, Labour Party’s former Covid minister Chris Hipkins, who was also present at the event.
She said the only real advice she could offer was, “You do you.”
Ms Ardern said she had been friends with him for 20 years and spent two hours with him on the drive to the meeting grounds.
“This is for him now. It’s for him to carve out his own space to be his own kind of leader,” Ms Ardern said. “Actually, there’s no advice I can really impart. I can share information, I can share experiences, but this is now for him.”
After her resignation, less than three years after an emphatic election victory, the Labour Party chose Mr Chris Hipkins to take over as the next prime minister in an election held last Sunday. Mr Hipkins is set to be sworn in on Wednesday.
In a brief speech, Ms Ardern said the thing she would miss most after stepping down are the people, because they had been the “joy of the job”.
Ms Ardern, who gained celebrity status around the world with her calm and effective handling of Covid and takedowns of misogynistic attacks, shocked the world with the announcement of her resignation last week.
The 42-year-old said she no longer had “enough in the tank” after five turbulent years, during which she steered the country through natural disasters, its worst-ever terror attack, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms Ardern also addressed the wide discussion that has been going on since her announcement about the vitriolic and misogynistic attacks on her on social media – something she has said did not contribute to her decision to step down.
“Whilst there has been a bit of commentary in the aftermath of my departure, I would hate for anyone to view my departure as a negative commentary on New Zealand,” Ms Ardern said.
“I want you to know that my overwhelming experience in this job, of New Zealand and New Zealanders, has been one of love, empathy and kindness,” she said. “That is what the majority of New Zealand has shown to me.”
Mr Hipkins, told reporters the leadership transition was “bittersweet”.
“Obviously, I’m really honored to be taking on the role, but as is well known, Jacinda’s a very good friend of mine,” he said.
Ms Ardern told the public she is leaving the job with a greater love and affection for New Zealand and its people than when she started.
“I didn’t think that was possible,” she said.
She said her colleagues were exceptional people and that she feels she is leaving the country in the “best of hands.”