British royals lap up puppy love as New Zealand tour wraps up

WELLINGTON - Britain's Prince William and wife Catherine experienced Wednesday some puppy love from German Shepherds destined to be police dogs before departing New Zealand with baby Prince George for the Australian leg of a three-week tour.

The couple, who included their own dog Lupo in an official family portrait released last month, fussed over the puppies and questioned their foster carers at Wellington's Royal New Zealand Police College about the animals' eating and exercise habits.

"Do they eat all your shoes?" Kate asked as she held a chewing pup.

They also went walkabout in the heart of the capital at the end of their 10-day stay in New Zealand, where they have attracted crowds in the tens of thousands, even in small regional towns such as Blenheim and Cambridge.

The numbers were down slightly in Wellington as the rain that has dogged their stay continued, with William commenting "Look at the sunshine!" when shown a picture of his father Prince Charles opening the police college in 1981.

Kate took shelter under a clear bubble umbrella to protect her navy skirt suit by New Zealand-born designer Rebecca Taylor but was able to set it aside when the grey skies cleared briefly as they made their way through the city.

The New Zealand trip has included yacht racing, Maori ceremonies and an adrenaline-charged jetboat ride on a lake nestled between the picturesque mountains of Queenstown.

The highlight was undoubtedly a "play date" involving eight-month-old George and 10 local babies of a similar age at Wellington's Government House, giving the public a rare glimpse of the young royal.

While the event was George's first-ever official function, beginning a lifetime of public duties, it was conducted in a casual atmosphere as babies crawled all over the floor and the third in line for the throne snatched toys from some of his tiny playmates.

George remained in Wellington with his Spanish nanny Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo for the rest of the stay, but his parents maintained the laid-back style as they made day trips throughout the country, including Kate playing cricket in heels in Christchurch.

Prime Minister John Key said this week that the young royals had "charmed the nation" and he expected the international exposure generated by their visit would boost New Zealand tourism.

"For many, it has been the chance of a lifetime to catch a glimpse of the royal couple," he said. "I've seen firsthand how much it has meant to people, young and old, to be part of the generous Kiwi welcome."

The royal family left Wellington on an Australian air force 737 at 0100 GMT and were due to touch down in Sydney at about 0430 GMT.

They will travel straight to Sydney Opera House for an official reception to begin their Australian tour.

The royals visit the Blue Mountains on Thursday, Queensland capital Brisbane on April 19, Uluru, formerly Ayers Rock, in the red centre of the continent on April 22, Adelaide on April 23 and the capital Canberra on April 24 and 25, before flying home.