Britain’s Prince Charles received a rousing salute from an armada of war canoes when he visited the Maori King Tuheitia in New Zealand’s central North Island on Sunday.

Charles wore a kiwi feather cloak as five ornately carved war canoes, or waka, paraded past on the Waikato River, each carrying about 30 tattooed warriors who raised their paddles in salute, singing Maori chants as they went by. The heir to the throne, and his wife Camilla, watched from a riverbank barge as a conch shell sounded, then continued formalities with an address to King Tuheitia and a 1,000-strong crowd.

The ties between the British royals and the people of the Turangawaewae marae, or meeting place, on the banks of the Waikato, date back more than a century. “I’m greatly honoured to be returning again to the embrace of this place, Turangawaewae,” Charles said. “The people of Waikato-Tainui have extended your care, compassion and hospitality to my family on many occasions.” Charles’ visit, which lasted an entire morning, comes after King Tuheitia refused to meet his son Prince William during a trip last year because the 90 minutes allotted was not long enough to complete traditional welcoming customs.

At the time, Tuheitia’s office said the Maori King was not “some carnival act to be rolled out at the beck and call of anyone”. Tuheitia is descended from the first Maori King Potatau Te Wherowhero, who was appointed in 1858 by various North Island tribes which wanted a single figure to represent them in the way that Queen Victoria was felt to represent New Zealand’s white settlers. The position does not have any constitutional status or legal powers in New Zealand but carries symbolic importance for some Maori. Charles and Camilla are on a seven-day tour of New Zealand that Prime Minister John Key said was intended to build a rapport with Kiwis before he eventually becomes king. They will leave for Australia on Tuesday.