Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Royals arrive to fireworks

PM says the weather will be better than Oz

The fireworks were bursting over Whenuapai last night as Prince Charles and his wife Camilla arrived in Auckland to begin their six-day visit - though it was the locals celebrating a late Guy Fawkes, rather than any over-the-top welcome.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force plane carring the Royal couple arrived at Whenuapai Air Base about 9.50pm, 20 minutes later than planned.

The heir to the throne made his way down the aircraft's stairs in a sprightly fashion while Camilla, dressed in a cream poncho and nude heels, followed carefully behind.

They were greeted by Prime Minister John Key and his wife Bronagh, Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples and his wife Arapera, Auckland Mayor Len Brown and the Chief of Air Force Air Vice Marshal Peter Stockwell.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force band played the national anthem before Charles inspected the guards, stopping to talk to some briefly. During his inspection, Key appeared to have a colourful conversation with the Duchess of Cornwall.

Key later told a media mob waiting on the tarmac that Camilla was a personable woman who was easy to talk to.

"She said they had a great time in Australia, but a lot of rain apparently, so I (told her) the weather has been good here," Key said.

Someone looking forward to spending time with the Royal couple is Wellington centenarian Mary Crosby.

The 101-year-old will make a birthday toast to Prince Charles in person; they celebrate the same birthday on November 14.

Crosby and 63 other birthday-celebrating Kiwis will enjoy a birthday bash at Government House in Wellington.

Crosby wasn't able to speak with the Herald on Sunday but her son Eugene will join her at the birthday party on Wednesday, and said the committed royalist broke into "the biggest smile" when family showed her the invitation.

"She always used to say: 'He was born on my birthday and named after my husband.' And she always used to toast him on their birthday."

Officials were mute yesterday on how much the tour is costing Kiwi taxpayers. Internal Affairs spokesman Allen Walley said the public would know the cost in about two weeks.

Parts of the tour are private, such as meetings with families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, but the public has chances to see the royals up close.

Diamond Jubilee Visit spokeswoman Rebekah Clement said the best opportunity to see the couple in Auckland would be tomorrow, when they walk from lower Queen St to Queens Wharf from about 1.20pm.

In Wellington the couple will meet the public during a walk along the city's waterfront on Wednesday, from 1.30pm.

One person who won't be at either walkabout is Republican Movement chairman Lewis Holden, whose group has organised a poster and mobile-billboard campaign questioning why a non-Kiwi is the country's head of state. "We just think it's time for New Zealand to have its own head of state," Holden said.

However, a One News/Colmar Brunton poll last night revealed 70 per cent of Kiwis still want the Queen as head of state.

Formalities for the Diamond Jubilee visit are already a lot less formal these days. The Queen's representative in New Zealand, The Governor-General, Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae, won't even meet with the heir to the throne until Wednesday in Wellington on the fourth day of the tour.

Past Kiwi encounters with the prince

1970: She danced with the future king, but it was no big deal. Forty-two years ago Mary Mitchelson, then Mary Picot and living in St Heliers, was photographed hand in hand with a 21-year-old Prince Charles at a YMCA Auckland square dancing event. Mitchelson was standing on Prince Charles' left. An acquaintance, Anne Harre of Kohimarama, was on the prince's right. The photo ran on the newspaper's front page the next day and Mitchelson's grandfather was so proud he had the photo framed. But Mitchelson is still embarrassed by the attention.

"He just happened to walk into our group," she says. Mitchelson doesn't think she will be queuing for a second meeting. "At the time it was something, but that was a long time ago."

1981: For one brief moment, Andrew Arkins was king. The 5-year-old Pakuranga boy found himself stuck at the back of a large crowd when Prince Charles visited Lloyd Elsmore Park for a public meet and greet during the 1981 Royal Tour. Then help appeared in the form of a couple of Maori wardens, Arkins said. "I got pulled up to the front by them and then I got asked to come forward to meet the prince."

Arkins, now 36, was on crutches for spina bifida but now the contact-centre operator for Orcon relies exclusively on a wheelchair.

1983: When Prince Charles visited the Auckland Fisher & Paykel factory in 1983, a carpeted bridge was built so the heir to the British throne wouldn't have to step over planks of wood in the carpark. Andrew Mercer was impressed by the prince's reaction.

"He saw the bridge and he avoided it. It showed everyone that he was normal." During their few minutes alone the proud fathers compared notes on their children, 10-month-old Prince William and Mercer's daughter Karina, a couple of months older.

"I remember he said: 'They're such a delight at that age, aren't they'."

Despite being a self-described royalist, Mercer, 60, said he didn't have a problem with New Zealand eventually becoming a republic.

"I don't want to see anyone overthrown, just a natural evolution."

- Herald on Sunday

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