WELLINGTON - Britain's baby Prince George embarked Monday on his first official tour, visiting New Zealand with parents William and Kate, but the eight-month-old missed the famed Maori welcome after being whisked indoors amid wild weather.
Strong winds, rain and poor visibility greeted the royals in Wellington at the start of a three-week visit to New Zealand and Australia that marks the beginning of a lifetime of regal duties for the pint-sized prince.
Kate, 32, struggled to keep her dress and pill-box hat under control as she carried her son down the steps of the New Zealand Air Force 757 to be greeted by Prime Minister John Key.
The chubby baby was lightly dressed in shorts and a white cardigan. Kate wore 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.
"I don't think their enthusiasm for coming to New Zealand has been dampened at all by the fact that we all got wet today on the tarmac," Key told reporters. "My sense is that they're going to captivate the nation... hopefully they'll have a great time."
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 present at only a few engagements on the tour, with the family based in Wellington and committing to a relatively light schedule of day-trips and rare evening functions while in New Zealand.
George did not attend the official welcoming ceremony on the lawns of Government House, as driving rain swept Wellington.
'Super' Maori welcome
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 been to 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, 31, second in line to the throne, is an expert at such functions, having visited both countries several times.
Britain's Prince George had his first day at nursery on Wednesday, prompting his proud mother Kate to take his photograph as she and Prince William dropped him off.
Two pictures, released by royal officials, show the two-year-old prince in a navy blue quilted coat and with a sky blue rucksack on his back arriving at Westacre Montessori School Nursery in Norfolk, eastern England.
Britain's Prince George walking unaided during a visit to the Sensational Butterflies exhibition at the Natural History Museum, ahead of his first birthday on July 22.
Britain's Prince George, together with his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, at the Sensational Butterflies exhibition at the Natural History Museum, ahead of Prince George's first birthday on July 22.
Britain's Prince George, together with his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, looking at a butterfly on his father's hand in a visit to the Sensational Butterflies exhibition at the Natural History Museum, ahead of Prince George's first birthday on July 22.
Prince William's forebears may once have boasted they ruled the waves, but it was his wife Kate who triumphed when the British royals staged a yacht race in New Zealand on Friday.
Under the tutelage of expert sailors from Team New Zealand, the pair took to Auckland Harbour in rival America's Cup racing yachts for a maritime showdown.
Prince William joked beforehand contained "a bit of healthy competition".
Dozens of spectator boats weighed anchor nearby, some sporting signs that read "Team Kate" or "Team Will".
While the second in line to the throne had the edge in experience, having sailed with Team NZ before, it was Kate who claimed bragging rights.
"We were sabotaged," William claimed after the defeat, later saying he only lost because "I wanted a quiet night".
Kate maintained a diplomatic silence but gave a thumbs up to the thousands of people who lined to watch along the foreshores of New Zealand's largest city. - See more at: http://admin.asiaone.com/news/plush/kate-rules-waves-royals-go-sailing-auckland#sthash.PwSraN6j.dpuf
While they were on the water, a plane hired by lobby group Republic New Zealand flew overhead trailing a banner reading "Time for a Kiwi head of state".
"Having the UK supply us with a head of state no longer works for New Zealand, we need our own head of state," the group said in a statement.
There were no such sentiments among the flag-waving crowds, who cheered as the royal couple stayed to shake hands despite the return of the rainy weather that has dogged the first five days of their 10-day New Zealand tour.
Britain's Prince William and wife Kate honoured New Zealand's war dead at a sombre ceremony on April 10 then delighted the crowds when they went walkabout in the small town of Blenheim.
The royal couple laid a wreath of red roses at the town's war memorial for the centenary of World War I and marked a minute's silence before moving along ranks of aged veterans lined up with medals pinned to their chests.
Duchess of Cambridge shaking hands with director Peter Jackson.
Their guide around the facility was World War II Spitfire pilot Harcourt "Bunty" Bunt, still sprightly at 93, who regaled them with stories of the heroics behind some of the flying exhibits.
Prompting cheers among the Union Jack-waving crowd, some of whom arrived at 4:30am to grab a prime position along the barricades, they shook hands and chatted amicably for half an hour.
The couple then took advantage of their first opportunity to meet members of the public since they began a three-week tour of New Zealand and Australia on Monday.
The couple then met director Peter Jackson at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, which the Oscar-winning filmmaker has spent millions of dollars turning into a world-class museum.
William, a qualified helicopter pilot who served in the Royal Air Force, was particularly taken with a Sopwith Pup biplane and hopped into the cockpit for a closer look.
Prince George, who enjoyed a play session with 10 Kiwi babies on Wednesday, did not make the trip to Blenheim, instead staying in Wellington where the family have based themselves for their 10-day New Zealand trip.
Britain's baby Prince George will host his first ever official function on Wednesday, when he has a play date with a group of New Zealand toddlers in Wellington.
The eight-month old, who landed in New Zealand on Monday with parents Prince William and Kate, will meet 10 local babies at an event in Government House organised by non-profit childcare group Plunket.
It will be the first time that a regal function has been organised around the young prince since his birth on July 22 last year.
Since then, he has rarely been seen in public, with his arrival in Wellington one of the few chances royal watchers have had to see the chubby infant.
Plunket president Tristine Clark said the babies at the event were all roughly the same age as George and were the offspring of first-time parents, just like William and Kate.
She said the parents were also selected to reflect the diversity of New Zealand society, including various ethnic groups and a same-sex couple.
"This is a very multi-cultural country and we wanted the Duke and Duchess (of Cambridge) to meet people from all backgrounds."
"We wanted something quite special for the duke and duchess, not just a meet-and-greet and shake hands but something that was actually really enjoyable for them as well," she said.
While the event is meant to be relaxed, Syme said the parents had been advised to address the royals as "Your Royal Highness" on the first instance, followed by their name after that.
She said the parents had also been told not to hesitate to intervene if a royal row erupted between the prince and some of his pint-sized subjects.
"Baby George is as cute as any other baby... but unfortunately he cannot be New Zealand's future head of state, not unless he one day migrates to New Zealand and becomes a citizen," it said.
George, third in line to the throne of all three countries, follows in the footsteps of his father who travelled Down Under with his parents Prince Charles and Diana in 1983 aged nine months.
The three-week royal tour by William, 31, Kate, 32, and George will be one of the first times the young prince has been seen in public since his birth on July 22 last year.
The symbolism of the trip is clear, with George also being directly in line to become king of Australia and New Zealand after grandfather Charles and then William.
George will only be taken to a few specific engagements throughout the trip, their Kensington Palace residence said.
In New Zealand, the royal couple will start their visit in Wellington on Monday with a ceremonial welcome including a Maori dance, and inspect a guard of honour.
George could have some playmates on Wednesday when William and Kate attend a reception at Government House in Wellington with new mothers and their toddlers.
On Thursday they travel to Blenheim for a wreath laying session honouring New Zealand soldiers killed in World War I, which broke out 100 years ago.
They will also meet Prime Minister John Key and attend a state reception where William will unveil a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.
The couple are in Auckland on Friday, Hamilton and Cambridge on Saturday, Dunedin and Queenstown on Sunday, where they will brave the Shotover Jet.
Christchurch on April 14, where they will pay their respects to victims of the 2011 earthquake.
William's private secretary Miguel Head told reporters in March that the couple had put in a lot of planning for the visit, which will be Kate's first to either country.
Their 11-person entourage will include a hairdresser and a recently-appointed Spanish nanny. They fly to and from London on scheduled flights.
The plane carrying Britain's Prince William, his wife Catherine and baby Prince George arrives at the international airport in Wellington on April 7, 2014.
Police set up a cordon for media to assemble before the arrival of the plane carrying Britain's Prince William, his wife Catherine and baby Prince George at the international airport in Wellington
Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine meet the Governor-General of New Zealand Lt. Gen. Jerry Mateparae with his wife Janine during a welcoming ceremony
Britain's Prince William (C) and his wife Catherine (L) meet a Maori warrior during a welcoming ceremony at Government House in Wellington
Britain's Prince William (L) receives a "hongi", a traditional Maori greeting, by a Maori elder during a welcoming at Government House in Wellington
Catherine (L), the Duchess of Cambridge, receives a "hongi", a traditional Maori greeting, by a Maori elder during a welcoming at Government House in Wellington
Britain's Prince William (L) is talked through the ceremony performed by a Maori warrior (R) by a Maori elder (2nd L) during a welcoming ceremony
A Maori warrior (L) waits for the royal couple to arrive for a Maori welcome at Government House in Wellington
Britain's Prince George (R) is pictured at an upstairs window during a Maori welcoming ceremony at Government House in Wellington
Britain's Prince William (L) is talked through the ceremony performed by a Maori warrior (R) by a Maori elder (C) during a welcoming ceremony at Government House in Wellington
Britain's Prince William (centre L) meets with local schoolchildren as the Governor-General of New Zealand Lt. Gen. Jerry Mateparae (R) looks on, during a welcoming ceremony at Government House in Wellington
Britain's Prince William (top R) and his wife Catherine (C) meet local schoolchildren during a welcoming ceremony at Government House in Wellington