There were big smiles all round at Spotswood College yesterday as All Blacks captain Richie McCaw took time out of his holiday to visit the school.
Principal Mark Bowden said McCaw was there to talk to the school's senior students in the wake of last year's Paritutu tragedy.
In August last year Spotswood College students Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye and Felipe Melo, both 17, and their Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education Centre instructor Bryce Jourdain, 42, drowned after being swept out to sea while climbing around Paritutu rock.
McCaw spoke to the families and friends of those lost before addressing the school's new set of leaders and senior class.
McCaw said while it was impossible to know what to say to the families, he was pleased to be able to offer what comfort and distraction he could.
"To be able to turn up and say hi and get a smile and a laugh and get their thoughts away from it for a while, I enjoy being able to do that."
He said the school had been through a tough few months and would no doubt still have more to come.
"I think just the fact that people take some time and show some support. There's people outside, they don't realise, whose thoughts are with them."
Mr Bowden said it was especially good to have McCaw visiting on the day the school's peer-support leaders for 2013 were heading off to a leadership training camp.
"We've got the number one sports leader in the country here and for him to share his thoughts and wisdom about leadership is absolutely fantastic."
Spotswood College head boy Tane Leong said it was inspiring to hear McCaw speak. "When he talks to us he's so genuine and he's just one of the people. It's great."
McCaw also presented the school with a cheque from Westpac for $1000.
Mr Bowden said the money, along with money donated by student councils from around the country would be put towards a Paritutu memorial.
The memorial will be revealed in a ceremony on December 8 this year, the anniversary of Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye's memorial service, he said.
Mr Bowden said he would be consulting with the whole school community about it.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is expected to complete its report into the Paritutu tragedy and decide if any charges are to be laid by Friday.