Maori welcome for British royals in New Zealand

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The royal couple will take in everything from hobbit feet to the devastation of earthquake-hit Christchurch

Prince Charles (C) and his wife Camilla (R) join New Zealand PM John Key (L) during Armistice Day commemorations at the Auckland War Memorial on November 11. The royal couple arrived in New Zealand on the last leg of their tour marking Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee

Britain's Prince Charles and wife Camilla rubbed noses in a traditional Maori greeting in New Zealand Sunday, kicking off the final leg of a Pacific tour to mark Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee.

After travelling to Papua New Guinea and Australia, the royal couple touched down in Auckland late Saturday for a trip that will take in everything from whimsical hobbit feet to the devastation of earthquake-hit Christchurch.

They commemorated Armistice Day at the Auckland War Memorial on Sunday, where members of the local Ngati Whatua iwi, or tribe, performed a Maori welcoming ceremony.

After formal speeches, Charles and Camilla pressed noses with the Maori representatives in a hongi, signifying the sharing of the breath of life, although the duchess's hard-brimmed hat caused a minor difficulty.

"You can try," she said as she leaned in to Ngati Whatua's Grant Hawke, who later said it was "lucky she didn't have a flat nose like mine."

Prime Minister John Key said the enthusiasm of the crowd of about 500 who turned out to greet the royal couple reflected the affection New Zealanders have for the British monarchy.

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

However, the New Zealand Republican Movement has vowed to stage peaceful protests during the visit, calling for the former British colony to sever ties with the monarchy.

Chairman Lewis Holden said the first in line to the British throne lacked a genuine "Kiwi" connection and the royal link should be abolished and replaced with a popularly elected New Zealander.

"New Zealand needs an effective head of state, not a fly-in, fly-out, token head of state," he said.

It is the seventh time Charles has visited New Zealand -- most recently in 2005 -- but the first time Camilla has travelled to the country.

While in Wellington, they will visit director Peter Jackson's famous Weta Workshop to inspect costumes and props used in "The Hobbit" movies, the first of which has its world premiere in the city on November 28.

Charles is reportedly a major Tolkien fan and British media have cited Palace sources as saying "he is very much looking forward to seeing Bilbo Baggins's foot".

The prince will celebrate his 64th birthday in the capital on Wednesday at a gathering at Government House with 64 people who were also born on November 14, ranging in age from 18 to 101.

Val Baker was among those chosen from 1,500 people who lodged applications to attend the birthday bash and said while she was nervous about how to address the prince, she hoped to gain an insight into his everyday life.

"I'd just like to have a chat about general things," she told Fairfax Media.

"I wonder if he cooks his own breakfast, or does he make coffee for Camilla in the morning? I'd love to know the simple things that they never let the public know."

The royal couple will get a taste of rural life with a visit to the Feilding farmers' market, where Charles will be able to indulge his long-standing interest in organic produce.

The trip ends on a sombre note on Friday in Christchurch, where residents are still recovering after a catastrophic earthquake last year that claimed 185 lives.