There would be traditional Maori nose rubs, a group playdate, yacht races, kangaroo encounters and too many handshakes to count. But first, 9-month-old Prince George and his parents had to complete the marathon 27-hour journey from London to Sydney to Wellington, New Zealand, where the young family finally touched down just after noon local time on April 7 to kick off their jam-packed 19-day tour. If the chubby-cheeked heir was feeling jet-lagged, he didn’t show it: Looking cozy and content in his mother’s arms, he appeared unfazed by the gauntlet of handlers and photographers awaiting his arrival. But even a precocious little prince has his limits, and within 90 minutes, he was out of view with his new nanny, Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo, inside Wellington’s historic Government House while his parents exchanged “hongis” (nose rubs) with Maori leaders. William and Kate “are so proud to be showing George around where they can,” a friend tells PEOPLE. And yet, adds a Palace aide, “there’s only a limited amount of things that a baby can do.”
Of course, George has more on his tiny shoulders than most of his peers – as does his mother, who is still relatively new to both parenthood and princess life. She has proven herself a quick study at both, though, as well as a supportive spouse who prioritizes alone time with her husband of nearly three years. All three roles were fully on display Down Under, with George’s protective parents working to make sure that their first international tour as a family balances royal duty, baby-friendly fun and even a few romantic getaways. Employing what the Palace calls a “hub-and-spoke” plan, William, 31, and Kate, 32, are largely basing themselves in three centers around Australia and New Zealand in which they can leave George with the exactingly trained Borrallo while they head out on some 45 engagements before returning nightly. “That’s so that Prince George doesn’t have to move around and the couple can still cover as much of the country and see as many people as they can,” says the aide.
For Kate the trip marks only her third international tour – and her first visit to Australia and New Zealand. The tour also marks her biggest royal duty to date, as she has spent much of the past nine months on a maternity leave of sorts: Apart from a small number of carefully chosen engagements, she has mostly busied herself caring for George and overseeing renovations at the family’s homes in London and Norfolk, as well as nesting at the Bucklebury home of her parents, Carole and Michael Middleton. “It’s something she’s always wanted to do,” says William’s private secretary, Miguel Head. “The breadth of things they’re going to be seeing and the people they’re going to be meeting makes her very enthusiastic. [William] is in no doubt that his wife will fall in love with New Zealand and Australia every bit as much as he did some years ago.”
William himself was almost exactly his son’s age when he made his first trip to the region 31 years earlier with his own parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Showing off his newly learned crawling skills, “William Wombat” – a family nickname he earned after the trip – charmed fans even as his mother, then 21, kept her stress hidden behind the scenes. “I went to my lady-in-waiting, cried my eyes out and said, ‘Anne, I’ve got to go home. I can’t cope with this,'” Diana later told biographer Andrew Morton. “William doesn’t want this trip to be a replica of when he went with his parents 31 years ago,” says Majesty magazine editor-in-chief Ingrid Seward. “He wants it to be different and matching how he and Kate do things.” Most notably, “seeing the interaction between William and Kate is totally different” from his parents, says the friend of the couple. “It’s not the future king and wife who will do as she’s told, but a husband and wife in the modern world.”
Which means making a concerted effort to carve out time for just the two of them, including a recent weeklong getaway to the Maldives during which they left George with the Middletons. On April 22 the couple will spend the night in a luxury tent at the exclusive $1,100-per-person Longtitude 131 resort at Australia’s Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – otherwise known as Ayers Rock – with George in Borrallo’s care in Canberra. And on April 11 they are expected to face off in a sailing contest in Auckland harbor before retiring to a lodge for the night. “They are a little competitive, and we expect this to be very enjoyable,” says Head with a wink.
But it’s their active, soon-to-be toddler who will most keep them on their toes. With two new teeth and having just learned to crawl, “he will be at a very inquisitive age,” says Sarah Dixon, a maternity nurse who has worked with friends of the royal couple. “He will enjoy being out and exploring new sights and sounds.” Having just recently survived the sleepless newborn crying stage, “I think the sleep routine is going to be a massive issue for them” given the change in surroundings and time difference, says Dixon. And there are other practical considerations. “Baby food preparation is another thing to consider at this age,” she says. “They will liaise closely with the chefs there because it’s important that his food is prepared correctly. The logistics of traveling with a 9-month-old are pretty extensive, really!”
Which may be the reason the couple feel they have their hands full with one baby for now. Asked by an Irish guardsman at a St. Patrick’s Day event whether the pair had plans for more children, William replied, “Maybe one day. One’s enough at the moment.” Says longtime royal watcher Seward: “They are clearly enjoying watching all these first stages. They are loving it.”
Whether in the outback or the English countryside, the trio are relishing their life together. “They are a balanced young family,” says the friend. Kate has been shopping for their newly renovated rural estate, Anmer Hall, as well as the family’s London residence at Kensington Palace. They are set to return to England on April 25 but won’t be home for long, with William and Harry – and possibly Kate and George – slated to attend the wedding of close friend Guy Pelly in Tennessee on May 3. Fasten your seatbelts, William and Kate: By then, your little guy will surely be cruising.