WELLINGTON // Britain’s baby Prince George arrived in New Zealand with parents Prince William and Kate Monday for his first official tour, but the eight-month-old missed the famed Maori welcome after being whisked away indoors amid wild weather.
Strong winds, rain and poor visibility greeted the royals in Wellington at the start of a three-week tour of New Zealand and Australia.
Kate, 32, struggled to keep her dress and pillbox hat under control in blustery conditions as she carried her baby down the steps of the New Zealand Air Force 757 to be greeted by prime minister John Key.
The chubby infant was lightly dressed in shorts and a white cardigan, while Kate was wearing a buttoned-up red coat by designer Catherine Walker adorned with a silver fern brooch that was a gift to Queen Elizabeth II when she visited New Zealand in 1953.
The arrival was one of the first times George, who is third in line to the throne, has been seen in public since his birth on July 22 last year.
He will be taken to only a few engagements throughout the tour, with the family based in Wellington for the New Zealand leg and committing only to a relatively light schedule of day trips and rare evening functions.
As driving rain swept Wellington, George did not attend the official welcoming ceremony on the lawns of Government House but he was spotted watching proceedings from a window in the arms of his newly appointed Spanish nanny Maria Theresa Turrion Borrallo.
His father William was greeted with a traditional Maori challenge from fearsome-looking tattooed warriors in flax skirts wielding wooden spears, who threw a leaf at his feet as they issued a full-throated battle cry.
The prince responded by picking up the leaf, symbolically showing he was a friend, before he and Kate performed a hongi, or nose-rubbing ceremony, with Maori elders.
Kate — who has never visited New Zealand or Australia before — chatted to warriors in traditional dress with bare backsides, and was overheard telling one of the Maori dancers that the indigenous welcoming ceremony was “super”.
William, second in line to the throne, is an expert at such functions, having visited both countries several times.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana took him on their tour in March and April 1983 and his most recent trip was in 2011, when he comforted victims of the Christchurch earthquake and devastating floods in Australia.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were treated like celebrities when they visited Canada soon after their wedding in 2011, while last year they toured Singapore, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu as representatives of Queen Elizabeth II on her Diamond Jubilee.
Crowds were relatively sparse due to the rain in Wellington, although a group of children huddled under umbrellas were rewarded with a brief chat with the royal couple before they headed inside.
However the royal visit has already sparked intense interest in New Zealand, with discussion ranging from whether George’s baby car seat has been correctly installed to whether the country should retain the monarchy.
Former deputy prime minister Don McKinnon said over the weekend that it was “inevitable” New Zealand would become a republic, even though people still felt great respect for the royals.
Key said he did not believe change would happen any time soon, saying there was “robust support” for the monarchy in New Zealand which had increased in recent years.
“If you go back ... maybe a decade and asked the question whether New Zealanders want to become a republic then I think the numbers would have been sixty-forty opposed,” he told public radio.
“If you asked that question today I think it would be eighty-twenty opposed.”
* Agence France-Presse