WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Prince William showed that Britain’s monarchy still has pulling power in New Zealand when he was greeted by crowds eight-deep Monday as he arrived to open the country’s new Supreme Court building in the capital, Wellington.
“We love you William” a young woman called as the second in line to the British throne was draped in a traditional chiefly Maori cloak before facing bare-chested warriors — in a traditional challenge to visitors. Chiefs of the local Te Atiawa tribe greeted him with a traditional pressing of noses ahead of a ceremony to open the building.
Protesters who want to abolish the British monarch’s role as New Zealand’s symbolic head of state and Justice Department employees demanding higher wages staged noisy street protests but Prince William was unfazed, later shaking hands with some of the protesters during a public walkabout to meet wellwishers.
The 27-year-old prince is acting as representative of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, in opening the court and performing a string of other duties during his three-day visit.
Excited royal watchers stood in hot sun for two hours to shake the prince’s hand and chat briefly with the young royal, the eldest son of the late Princess Diana, to a background barrage of chanting, whistle-blowing and loud banging from protesters.
“He’s very engaging, he’s got a lot of Diana’s qualities, I think,” added Sharon Cairns, 35, a High Court worker.
“He is a nice man. One day he will be king,” said retiree Johanna Bass, 64.
In his speech opening the building, the prince noted the dire emergency in Haiti following last week’s deadly earthquake, noting “how much the people of Haiti are in our thoughts and prayers at this terrible time.”
The South Pacific country’s Supreme Court was established in 2004, ending a period of nearly 150 years when its final appellate court was Britain’s Privy Council, based in London.
Queen Elizabeth remains the head of state, formally known as Queen of New Zealand. The prince is second in line to the British throne after his father, Prince Charles.
As the prince emerged from the building, people clapped and cheered as he began more than an hour of meet-and-greet handshakes among about 1,000 wellwishers.
Student Rosemary Stewart, 22, said Prince William was “lovely” and a “really genuine person.”
“An important part of the role he plays is just connecting with people and he’s done a good job of that today,” she said.
Prince William later visited a wildlife refuge on Kapiti Island near Wellington where he got to hold a spotted Kiwi, the flightless bird that is New Zealand’s national symbol.
Conservation ranger David Wrightson said it was one of more than 1,200 Kiwi on the island, a sanctuary for threatened bird species.
Prime Minister John Key hosted an informal barbecue later Monday, where he said the prince would sport a “royal apron” to share in flipping the sausages and steaks.
He was slated to visit the Wellington Children’s Hospital on Tuesday before flying to Australia.