William turns Biggles in wet outing
The South Island's first taste of the Cambridges could not have been sweeter.
Prince William and Catherine received a rapturous reception when they touched down in the heart of Marlborough wine country yesterday, and left the townsfolk of Blenheim abuzz.
A 5000-strong crowd could barely contain their excitement when the duke and duchess stepped out in Seymour Square for their first public walk-about of their New Zealand tour, the true highlight of the day.
Young and old were swept up in the fervour, greeting the pair with cheers and a flurry of Union Jack-waving when they arrived shortly after 11.15am.
The duchess looked elegant and relaxed, wearing a perfectly tailored sky blue coat with pleats at the back. The belted piece was an Alexander McQueen design; the same label also created her wedding gown.
Kate complemented the coat with navy suede pumps, which matched her clutch, and blue sapphire earrings to match her ring, which belonged to the late Princess Diana.
She wore her hair in a looped pony tail, created by her hairdresser, Amanda Cook Tucker, who is travelling with the couple.
William wore the Queen's golden diamond jubilee medals on his left lapel, and both he and Catherine wore the WW100 poppy pin, marking a century since World War I broke out.
The polite crowd went quiet as the couple paid their respects to those who died in World War I and II, and laid a wreath of flowers at the base of the city's memorial cenotaph in their memory.
World War II veterans Wilton Sterrit, 90, and Brian Schwass, 89, were honoured to meet the duchess.
"I was very pleased to meet her," Sterrit said. "[She's] Lovely, isn't she. Very natural."
"I'm elated," Schwass said. "We just talked the weather. She wanted to know where I served."
The waiting fans in the crowd erupted when the couple walked through the clock tower to greet them.
Both William and Kate, who split up, took their time to greet almost everyone in the front rows.
Royal-watchers further back stood on tip-toes to capture a glimpse, or held up their phones to capture a candid shot, of the royals.
Mackenzie Large, 5, was surprised when Kate stopped and talked to her, and she gave the duchess a bouquet of flowers.
"She had a pretty blue dress and I liked her shoes and her hair and her earrings," she said.
Marlborough Girls' College student Brydie Godsiff, 15, was overwhelmed she got to shake Kate's hand. "My heart's racing. She's just perfect."
Debbie Herron said she was impressed with how "gracious" Kate was in talking to the crowd.
"She didn't just rush through. Her handshake was very good, very warm and sincere," Herron said.
Ethan Turner, 9, of Blenheim gave William a friendship bracelet, which was still around his wrist when the couple toured the Omaka Heritage Aviation Centre in the afternoon, where another crowd had gathered across the car park.
Film-maker Sir Peter Jackson, a benefactor of the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre trust, showed the couple around the world-renowned museum, whose staff gifted Prince George a tiny vintage flying helmet.
"Oooh," Catherine cooed when she opened the gift.
Outside, William pleased his host by clambering into a World War I Sopwith Pup.
Kate laughed as William struggled to manoeuvre his long legs into the cockpit, and his face went a little red.
Once aboard, the prince turned and smiled and said: "Perfect, fine by me, start 'er up."
He asked if it worked, while Kate peered in asking him what the different levers did.
"It's fantastic," he said.
However, he declined to put on a vintage pilot's helmet and goggles, despite urges to do so from the throngs of media.
"No, no, no," he said.
"A step too far?" Prime Minister John Key posited.
"It might well be," William replied.
Key joked that William should fly it home.
Looking to disembark, the duke said, "Oh dear, there's no dignified way of doing this, is there?"
"Let's see if I can get out without smacking my head".
The royal couple also stepped inside an Avro Anson plane from WWII, and William sat at the controls for some time, amazed by the restoration.
Nine-year-old Tallulah Dabinette was pulled out of the crowd to meet the royal couple.
She, along with sister Eloise, 7, and mother Sara-Lee, gifted the Duke and Duchess a framed photograph of her as a 7-month-old baby meeting Prince William during a 2005 visit to New Zealand.
"Thanks very much, it's very special," a touched Prince said.
In the crowd, William's looks were a subject of hot discussion.
"Everyone said he looks bald but I thought he was handsome," Saskia Bray, 9, from Blenheim said. "He looks exactly like the pictures. I get why Princess Kate married him. She's the prettiest person I've ever seen."
Her aunt Sharon Bray, 67, said: "William is the fourth generation of royal I have met. He is much more handsome than his father Charles."
After the tour, William told Sir Peter, "It was very, very good".
"Thank you so much," Kate said.
About the drizzly weather, she said, "It reminds us of home."
Then they were whisked away, waving to the crowd from an open car window.