07.01.2003 By PAULA OLIVER
When a gleaming private jet carrying Tom Cruise flies into town, you would expect a big crowd.
Except in Taranaki, that is.
Yesterday morning only a lucky few caught a glimpse of the world’s highest paid actor as he stretched his legs on New Plymouth Airport’s tarmac shortly after 9am.
Cruise flew from Honolulu to begin filming the Japanese period epic The Last Samurai.
His arrival in Taranaki had long been the talk of the town, but the exact time he would touch down had been kept secret.
The American star of films such as Top Gun, Mission: Impossible and Jerry Maguire was greeted by a small but excited group of onlookers – mostly airport staff – as he stepped out of a Gulfstream jet.
“It’s Tom Cruiser, it’s Tom Cruiser,” one small girl shouted.
Dressed in black, Cruise hugged and shook the hands of waiting members of his entourage before spending about 10 minutes standing in the sunshine as Customs and MAF officials carried out checks.
He was accompanied on the plane by a small group, but his children and his partner, Penelope Cruz, did not fly with him.
After enjoying a few stretches, Cruise strolled about 20m across the tarmac to a waiting helicopter, pausing several times to raise his baseball cap and wave to the locals.
One family passing the airport diverted when they spotted Cruise’s twin-engined jet approaching.
They got to the carpark just in time to glimpse the star. A woman in the car said: “It’s our lucky day. I hope he enjoys New Zealand.”
Cruise, clutching his passport, was whisked away in the helicopter.
His numerous bags were plucked from the jet and ferried to his nearby accommodation in a fleet of four-wheel-drive vehicles with tinted windows.
Cruise is renting a mansion in the Kaitake Ranges, not far from Oakura, southwest of New Plymouth. The house has state-of-the-art security and a heli-pad.