Maori welcome for British royals in New Zealand

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.

  • 2015 Nissan Murano aims for the style-forward crowd 12 hours ago
    2015 Nissan Murano aims for the style-forward crowd

    Nissan says its 2015 Murano crossover, only the second major revamp of the car since it debuted in 2003, draws its design cues from the “age of future space flight.” That’s probably taking it a little far, but the new Murano, based off the 2013 Resonance concept vehicle, is an exceptionally lovely machine, all fluid, curved metal on the outside, and flowing, soft-touch materials on the inside. Certain kinds of comfort and charms that were unheard-of outside of premium vehicles five years ago have definitely trickled down, and reached a kind of design apotheosis with this car.

  • Volkswagen brings new (ish) Jetta to New York along with Golf Sportwagen 15 hours ago
    Volkswagen brings new (ish) Jetta to New York along with Golf Sportwagen

    With its new President and CEO of America, Michael Horn, on stage in New York after just 100 days on the job, Volkswagen debuted its 2015 Jetta. You'd be forgiven for noticing little differences compared to the outgoing model, and in the words of Horn himself, the changes are indeed subtle. The most notable of those subtleties is the all-new 2.0 liter turbo diesel motor, offering 45 mpg highway and a modest increase of 10 hp. For VW, diesel is where it's at.

  • With Vantage GT, Aston Martin races below $100,000 15 hours ago
    With Vantage GT, Aston Martin races below $100,000

    Aston Martin is going downmarket, sort of. The 2015 Vantage GT, a sport-styled variant of Aston’s legendary flagship car, draws style and performance tips from their GT4 race cars, which will be running in North America this year. It’s also priced at $99,900, which shows that the market for these kinds of consumer sports cars has boomed in recent years.

  • ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says
    ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says

    KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 — The “huge” statues at a Hindu temple in Batu Caves and Buddhist temple in Penang are an affront to Islam as the religion forbids idolatry, a retired Court of Appeals judge...

  • StarHub 4G users to be charged from June as promo ends
    StarHub 4G users to be charged from June as promo ends

    Are you on the 4G or LTE mobile data network under StarHub? If so, you’ll have to start paying for the service.

  • Over 280 missing after South Korean ferry capsizes
    Over 280 missing after South Korean ferry capsizes

    By Narae Kim JINDO South Korea (Reuters) - More than 280 people, many of them students from the same high school, were missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea on Wednesday, in what could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years. It was not immediately clear why the Sewol ferry listed heavily on to its side and capsized in apparently calm conditions off South Korea's southwest coast, but some survivors spoke of a loud noise prior to the disaster.