BLENHEIM, New Zealand: Britain’s Prince William and wife Kate honored New Zealand’s war dead at a somber ceremony on Thursday, then delighted the crowds when they went walkabout in the small South Island 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.
The couple, who kicked off a three-week tour of New Zealand and Australia on Monday, then prompted cheers as they chatted and shook hands with the crowds of fans waving British flags—some of whom arrived at 4:30 am to grab a prime position along the barriers.
Their eight-month-old son Prince George, who enjoyed a play session with 10 Kiwi babies on Wednesday, stayed in Wellington where the family have based themselves for their 10-day New Zealand trip.
Kate, 32, wore a powder-blue Alexander McQueen frock coat with her hair tied back in a ponytail.
Blenheim resident Vicky King said locals could scarcely believe the couple had come to their town of about 30,000, which lies at the heart of the Marlborough wine-making region, with much of the population turning out to catch a glimpse of the royals.
“It’s just so crazy that they came to Blenheim,” she said after meeting Kate, describing it as a “surreal” experience.
“I was really nervous but she’s a mum just like me . . . she was very easy to talk to,” she added.
Her son Alton, who at nine months is just a little older than baby Prince George, startled Kate with a loud sneeze as she leaned in to look at him.
William and Kate then met director Peter Jackson at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Center, which the Oscar-winning filmmaker has spent millions of dollars turning into a museum.
Their guide was a World War II Spitfire pilot—Harcourt “Bunty” Bunt, still sprightly at 93—who regaled them with stories of the heroics behind some of the exhibits.
After the royal couple returned to the capital, they attended a state reception at Government House, where William unveiled a portrait of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II.
The second-in-line to the throne apologized to Governor-General Jerry Mateparae about any night-time disturbances caused by baby George.
“He has been known to be particularly vocal at 3:00 a.m., I swear I heard him doing the haka [Maori war dance] this morning,” he added.