11 Apr 2014

Prince speaks of affection for NZ

2:02 pm on 11 April 2014

Prince William got a laugh or two with his speech and gave a few insights into his young son's sleeping habits at a state reception at Government House in Wellington on Thursday night.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were guests of Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae and his wife Lady Janine at the reception for 200 where some of New Zealand's finest food were showcased and William unveiled a new portrait of his grandmother, the Queen.

Prince William, centre, and guests at Government House.

Prince William, centre, and guests at Government House. Photo: GOVERNMENT HOUSE / Simon Woolf

The Duchess wore a dress by Jenny Packham embellished with a silver fern.

The Duchess wore a dress by Jenny Packham embellished with a silver fern. Photo: POOL

The Prince's speech began with a Maori greeting and he got a loud "kia ora'' in response. "No insults yet," he quipped to laughter from the audience before thanking Sir Jerry for having his family to stay.

"I hope George doesn't keep you up. He can be very vocal at 3am. I swear I heard him doing the haka this morning. He's a bonny lad and I'm fairly sure he will be a prop forward."

Sir Jerry gave a good-humoured speech, saying the visit was special as it was the first time Catherine had been to New Zealand and it was Prince George's first trip.

"We are absolutely delighted - all of us - to have you here. However, the greatest prestige goes to Prince George. And I would say there has been a hubbub of delight from New Zealanders with his arrival."

Prince William told those gathered he was certain that Catherine would leave with the same affection for New Zealand as he had, describing it as an innovative country that "repeatedly demonstrates its progressiveness."

He also paid tribute to its beautiful scenery and fine wine, which he hoped to sample when visiting Queenstown as part of their nine-day tour. "We drove through the vineyards (in Marlborough) today and I was getting quite thirsty."

The Duchess wore a black knee-length Jenny Packham dress with fern hand-stitched beading on the shoulders to reflect the New Zealand theme and a silver fern borrowed from the Queen.

Before the reception, the couple went down a line greeting politicians including Prime Minister John Key, Labour Party leader David Cunliffe, Parliament's Speaker David Carter and Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell. Green MPs Kennedy Graham, Gareth Hughes and Steffan Browning were also present but co-leaders Russel Norman and Metiria Turei did not attend.

The royal couple also circulated around the room, with guests arranged in groups including judges, diplomats and military personnel. An organiser for the event says there was a strict group procedure which ensured that each guest met either the Duke or the Duchess.

New Zealand's finest produce was the order of the day. Guests enjoyed canapes including Wellington made feta, potted Lake Taupo trout, braised Cardrona and merino lamb tarts, Waikanae crab toasts, cocktail paua fritters, oysters and custard tarts with kiwifruit and kaffir lime.

The Duke and Duchess with a new portrait of the Queen by Wellington artist Nick Cuthell.

The Duke and Duchess with a new portrait of the Queen by Wellington artist Nick Cuthell. Photo: POOL

Special portrait

During the evening, a special portrait was unveiled by the royal couple. Prince William said New Zealanders' "fondness for my grandmother the Queen'' was what struck him most, before revealing the work.

The painting by Wellington artist Nick Cuthell was commissioned for the New Zealand Portrait Gallery and depicts the Queen in a blue day dress and wearing the silver fern. It will be hung as part of the permanent collection in the gallery's home in Shed 11 on Queen's Wharf in the capital.

Meeting with political leaders

David Cunliffe presents William with the gift.

David Cunliffe presents William with the gift. Photo: POOL

Earlier, Prince William held 20-minute meetings with Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader David Cunliffe, although what they spoke about on a formal level was off-limits.

Mr Key has said he expected to talk William through his proposed referendum to change the flag and have a general catch-up.

Mr Cunliffe said earlier he would let the Prince take the lead, but was happy to talk about the approach to the election, issues of importance to New Zealand and the economy.

The leader of the Opposition gave him a silver and black plaque with koru fern fronds and explained the meaning of the symbol, saying it meant renewal and nurturing. William replied that it was "super".

Thousands at Blenheim walkabout

On Thursday morning, an estimated 6000 people turned out to see the Duke and Duchess in Blenheim. The couple laid a wreath at South Island town's cenotaph and spent 30 minutes meeting the public in Seymour Square.

William and Catherine also had a private tour of the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre hosted by film director Sir Peter Jackson.

On Friday, the couple will visit Auckland. Prince William told Prime Minister John Key he expected his race against Catherine on America's Cup boats to be "a bit of healthy competition."