Royal visit ends with a wave and a smile

By Rebecca Quilliam, Agencies

With a wave and a smile they were gone - the royal couple who stole hearts and rejuvenated the Commonwealth spirit.

Just after 1pm today the Australian military plane carrying the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George took off from Wellington following a whirlwind 10-day tour.

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For the first time during the tour, on the walk to the plane Prince William was publicly holding his son, but much to photographers' annoyance, the Governor General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae and other officials blocked the unique shot.

The royal visit was dogged by rain, but that did nothing to dampen the spirits of hardy fans who lined streets, fields and town squares for hours to spot the glamorous couple.

The inevitable questions around whether the country should move towards republicanism arose during the tour, but the prince and his wife rekindled the romance much of the country had with the royals by meeting locals and listening to their stories.

It was a peaceful tour, with no protests against the Monarchy; rather numerous children passing on bouquets of flowers, letters and cards - mostly to Catherine.

For 10 days the media and public hung on every step taken by the royals - which designer's clothes Catherine was wearing and if they were local, every little gurgle and giggle from Prince George, and even a phantom pregnancy was thrown in.

However, a visit to an Otago winery and shots of Catherine quaffing local wine quickly put an end to the pregnancy rumour.

The visit put New Zealand on the map - most dramatically on the first day with the international media's attention drawn sharply to a heavily tattooed Maori warrior, wearing nothing but a flax skirt (piupiu) with a black thong, welcoming the royal guests at Government House.

The highlight of the tour was a playdate with George and 10 Wellington babies, all about the same age and from diverse backgrounds.

Their delighted parents beamed after the Plunket-led coffee-group, and spoke of how natural and down-to-earth the first time royal parents were.

Photos were displayed worldwide of little George's first official appointment - with reports of the third in line to the throne stealing a toy from another tot played down by the tot's mum, who said they were sharing the same toy.

The little guy was then stowed away from the limelight while his parents continued their journey around the country - starting in Blenheim.

The Duke and Duchess delighted in a personal tour of the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre by, arguably, one of our most famous citizens Sir Peter Jackson.

Prince William in particular was taken by the World War 1 vintage planes stored at the facility.

The tour continued in the city of sails with a race around Auckland's Waitemata Harbour in America's Cup yachts - a race won by Catherine, a win she looked like she would savour for a while yet.

In Waikato the couple split up, with the prince's passion for flying embraced with a trip to Pacific Aerospace and Catherine to the children's hospice Rainbow Place.

Gifts were a common feature throughout the tour, with George reaping most of the presents, including his first custom-designed Avanti bike with matching helmet.

The South Island treated the royal couple to dry days and adrenaline - with a death-defying trip along the Shotover River complete with 360 degree spins and close shaves with sheer cliff faces.

And there was never going to be a visit to New Zealand without a rugby game thrown in. Prince William was reunited with his mate, All Black captain Ritchie McCaw, during a junior rugby tournament at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Christchurch finished off the South Island leg, with a poignant visit to the site of the former CTV building and meetings with family members of Christchurch earthquake victims.

Today, Wellington again provided a drenching for the royal couple, who sheltered under brollies while thunder roared and lightning cracked overhead during a visit to the police college.

But it didn't stop the Duchess getting cosy with a little police pup, in training to be a member of the force.

A final walk about central Wellington provided the last of the fans with a glimpse, handshake and quick chat with Prince William and Kate, before they winged their way to Australia, where they will no doubt continue to charm.

- APNZ

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