Page last updated at 09:38 GMT, Sunday, 17 January 2010

Prince William learns the ropes during New Zealand trip

By Peter Hunt
Royal correspondent, BBC News

Prince William in New Zealand
William took the helm during a sail around Auckland

There is no going back. As he walked off the aircraft at Auckland International Airport, Prince William must have known it.

The next significant stage in his development as a senior royal is under way.

It is not something he has rushed to embrace. Caution and control are significant parts of William's DNA.

At the age of 18, his father was delivering speeches in Welsh and English. At 21, his grandmother had promised the crumbling Empire her life would be devoted to duty.

William, at 27 and with an heir ahead of him, has had time on his side.

Now though, in New Zealand, he is learning the ropes as a Windsor on tour abroad.

Novel experience

Instead of roadies, he has a private secretary by his side and there were no screaming fans in sight. He was greeted, instead by the country's Prime Minister, John Key and its Governor General, Sir Anand Satyanand.

You'll have to wait and see. I wouldn't get too carried away
Prince William

And on Monday, before he opens New Zealand's Supreme Court building, there will be a 21-gun salute and a guard of honour when he lays a wreath at the National War Memorial in Wellington.

Such formal welcomes are still a relatively novel experience for Prince William. One day, they'll be commonplace.

There was a relaxed Sunday feel to the first day of this, his first official overseas trip on behalf of the Queen.

Two of New Zealand's passions featured - rugby and sailing. He saw Auckland's Eden Park stadium, which is being re-developed for 2011's Rugby World Cup, and he took a trip around Auckland Harbour on an America's Cup yacht.

After a long haul flight, it was the perfect way to blow away the jetlag.

When senior royals fly the flag away from home, banquets and formal lunches feature and there is a strict dress code.

William, the institution's future, still has the freedom to do things his way. So he rounded off the day with a traditional Maori dinner or hangi.

Prince William in New Zealand
Meeting the public is becoming a familiar duty for the prince

Dating back to pre-European times, it involves the food being cooked in the ground with hot stones.

William's host, the governor general, had insisted there would be "no emphasis on protocol and stiff shirtedness".

The prince took him at his word and turned up wearing a blue open-necked shirt featuring a Maori design.

It was the first of three such gatherings. Barbecues are planned here and for when he gets to Australia. There, the temptation for one of the guests to call His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales "mate" may prove irresistible.

'Northern toffs'

His presence in one of the most far-flung parts of the Queen's realm raises an inevitable question which isn't a very pressing one at the moment. Will the status quo endure to ensure he is King of New Zealand?

The country's prime minister, John Key, thinks it will. He told the BBC it was inevitable they would one day get rid of the British monarch as their head of state, but not any time soon.

Prince William with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key
Prince William discussed the Rugby World Cup with the prime minister

The Sunday Star Times in Auckland is not so sure. Its editorial declared: "What have these northern toffs got to do with an independent state in the south Pacific? It's time to ditch it."

Keeping well away from the politics, Prince William told reporters it meant an awful lot to be representing the Queen in New Zealand and he wanted to keep up the standards she had "led the way with".

Asked whether this was the first of many tours to come, the prince replied in a classically cautious manner: "You'll have to wait and see. I wouldn't get too carried away."

He pointed out that he was still training as an RAF search and rescue pilot and, as he put it, "I need the training, believe me".

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