Wellingtonian Editorial: The modern sort of royal tour

Prince Charles laughs as he talks to school girls on the Wellington waterfront during a stroll.
Prince Charles laughs as he talks to school girls on the Wellington waterfront during a stroll.

Royal tours are not what they once were. They're really of minor curiosity value these days.

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla briefly became something of a news item in Wellington this week, what with their walk along the waterfront, their visit to Weta Workshop and Charles' 64th birthday party at Government House.

There was a time when royals visiting New Zealand were treated like rock stars. Before aeroplanes made international travel so easy, royal visits were rare and much appreciated.

Our first royal visitor was Prince Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria, in 1869. He arrived in Wellington as captain of HMS Galatea and after a week in the capital sailed to Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin and Auckland.

In 1901, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary) stopped at New Zealand's main centres, plus Rotorua.

The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) visited in 1920, and to judge from his letters home to his married girlfriend Freda, had a thoroughly miserable time.

The young prince seemed particularly peeved he couldn't beat the rotund Governor- General, Lord Liverpool, at squash. They played on the ship The Renown and at the court at Government House, Wellington.

In 1927 the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) planned to make a full tour, but the Duchess was taken ill with tonsilitis in Nelson and abandoned the trip.

The present Queen made the first of her 10 visits to New Zealand in 1953. She was the first reigning monarch to visit and she and Prince Phillip were immensely popular during their 35-day nationwide tour.

They travelled everywhere from Waitangi to Invercargill, stopping at smaller places such as Hastings, Marton, Blenheim Hokitika and Ashburton. The Queen attended the funeral for the Tangiwai rail disaster victims and opened a special session of Parliament.

A royal visit in those days was really something. Communities would wait for hours for a quick glimpse as the royals drove past. There were Union Jacks everywhere, people wore their best clothes, buildings were covered in bunting.

Royal visits have become much more frequent. Prince Edward was even a junior master at Wanganui Collegiate in the 1980s.

The royals have been to some surprising places. When Prince Charles and his first wife, Diana, were in Wellington in 1983, they were whisked out to Wainuiomata, where Diana planted a tree.

On one occasion the Queen's journey south was halted between Pukerua Bay and Plimmerton and she stood on a specially built platform to look across the scrub towards Whenua Tapu Cemetery. Quite what she made of that treat is not recorded.

A photo of the young Prince William on the lawn of Government House in Auckland in 1983 charmed the country.

New Zealand will probably one day sever its ties with British royalty. We are a fiercely independent country these days. No-one refers to a trip to Britain as "going Home" now.

The interest in royal tours is declining.

Rather than being treated as celebrities, Charles and Camilla were more like a couple of elderly relatives we know distantly.

The Wellingtonian