Prince William to visit N. Zealand, Australia

9th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Prince William will take time out from wedding planning to visit disaster-stricken areas of New Zealand and Australia later this month, royal officials said Wednesday.

St James's Palace said Prince William would visit earthquake-devastated New Zealand on March 17 and 18, then travel to cyclone- and flood-hit areas of Australia from March 19 to 21.

The visits, which come just over a month before his April 29 wedding to Kate Middleton, followed invitations from New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard, the Palace said in a statement.

"The Prince will meet those affected by the recent disasters, as well as meeting members of the emergency and other support services," it said, adding that he would be representing Queen Elizabeth II.

While in New Zealand, Prince William will attend a national memorial in Christchurch on March 18 for victims of the earthquake which devastated New Zealand's second largest city last month, claiming hundreds of lives.

He will also visit Greymouth, where 29 miners died in the Pike River colliery explosion late last year.

Key said the visit would comfort New Zealanders as the country faced "its darkest hours".

"This is a heart-warming gesture that will mean a lot to the thousands of people whose lives have been forever changed by these events," he said in a statement.

"I would like to personally thank The Queen for thinking of New Zealand in its darkest hours and very much look forward to seeing Prince William again, even though it is in very sad circumstances."

In Australia, Prince William plans to spend two days touring cyclone-ravaged areas of Queensland then travel to northwest Victoria, which was hit by severe flooding in January.

Prince William's grandmother Queen Elizabeth II remains the official head of state in New Zealand and Australia, which are former British colonies.

He last visited New Zealand and Australia in January 2010.

The Palace said Prince William's itinerary was yet to be finalised. Reports in Australia said Kate Middleton would not accompany him as it was an official royal visit.

© 2011 AFP

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