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Warm welcome for royal pair

By Kieran Campbell, Matthew Theunissen

With a gentle wave from their BMW, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall have departed from a warm welcome at the Auckland War Memorial Museum where several hundred people turned out to greet them today.

There were war veterans, royalists and a cautious hongi during the couple's first major welcome to New Zealand, on the final leg of their Pacific tour for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Prime Minister John Key said it was a thrill to meet the royal couple - but he wouldn't say what he joked about with the Prince during the Armistice Day commemoration ceremony.

"They said they had a lovely night's sleep at Government House, so that was good, and they're having a great time,'' Mr Key said.

Labour Party leader David Shearer met the Prince briefly and said their topic of conversation was weather.

"We were just saying that if he'd been here the day before it'd been brilliant sunshine,'' Mr Shearer said.

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla attended an official Maori welcome by Ngati Whatua in the museum's World War II Hall of Memories.

The Duchess' feathery black hard-brimmed hat, by designer Philip Treacy, caused some hesitation at her first hongi.

"You can try,'' she told Ngati Whatua's Grant Hawke, before leaning in for a brief hongi.

"Lucky she didn't have a flat nose like mine,'' Mr Hawke said with a giggle after the powhiri.

Next in line, Taiaha Hawke, said he was "a bit of a hongi expert'' and was not put off by the Duchess' hat.

"You've just got to take the lead,'' he said.

Prince Charles received glowing reviews for his address to the powhiri in Maori.
Grant Hawke said it was "very eloquent''.

"He did his mother proud,'' Mr Hawke said.

The royal couple also had morning tea in the museum with 10 war veterans who served in New Zealand's armed forces.

Graeme McKay, who was an army captain, said the royals were very easy to talk to.

"I guess they get lots of practice. He made you feel as though you were the only person in the room. He was asking where I'd served and I said I'd been in Korea and Malaya, and we discussed what it was like over there. It was a pretty nasty war in many ways, and the prince was impressive with his knowledge about it.''

Mr McKay's wife, Nan, said she was surprised by the Duchess' small stature.

"She was not quite what I expected - she's so little and so petite and she's so pretty and so charming. She makes you feel like she's actually interested in meeting you, which is a gift. I was just incredibly impressed with her.

"She was beautifully dressed, beautifully groomed and just completely charming - they were both charming. They talked to all the old soldiers and they made them feel important.''

RNZN veteran John Dallow, who served in the Korean war, was equally impressed.

"I would have thought that they'd get a bit tired of doing this sort of thing all day every day. They must have to do an awful lot of it, but they were genuinely interested in what I did in Korea and what the navy's function was. I thought they were both absolutely charming.''

Outside, the royals met some of the approximately 500 people gathered for the Armistice Day ceremony.

Mr Key said the enthusiasm of today's crowd reflected the affection New Zealanders still have for the monarchy.

"He's the future King of New Zealand so it's extremely important,'' Mr Key said.

"I think you can see by the polls around that New Zealanders' support of the monarchy is extremely strong. If anything it's been growing in recent years.''

One person who did not echo that support was New Zealand Defence Force veteran Kingi Taurua, who wasn't allowed to stand with his comrades beneath the cenotaph because he was holding a protest sign.

He said he supported the Royal visit but was concerned that Waitangi was not on the itinerary.

Mr Taurua, who served in Vietnam, Malaya and Borneo, was told by police he had to remain behind barriers with the rest of the public.

The royal couple have concluded their official engagements for today.

They will spend tomorrow in Auckland, and fly to Wellington on Wednesday.

- APNZ

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