Royal Family Down Under: Burning Questions, Answered

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge touched down in New Zealand Monday morning to kick off a much-anticipated three-week tour of both New Zealand and Australia — the couple's first official trip with Prince George. And though it's only day one, there's already been a swirl of information to keep up with. Here's what you need to know so far:

Why is this a big deal?
Besides the fact that any royal movement is always a major event, this trip holds particular significance. That’s because, while the British monarchy still reigns in both New Zealand and Australia — both part of the Commonwealth of Nations — it’s unclear how relevant the monarchy still is in both countries, and this trip will provide insight into that. Recently, a former prime minister of New Zealand noted that it was “inevitable” for the country to become a republic; in Australia, meanwhile, recent surveys have found that only a third of citizens would be upset if their country were to leave the commonwealth. This is Prince William’s first official visit to the region since 2011, following an earthquake in Christchurch (also a scheduled stop on this tour). He made his first trip there when he was 9 months old, about the same age that son Prince George is now. The Duchess has never been to either country before. 

Why has there been controversy surrounding the visit?
Two main issues here, both involving transportation: First was the fact that the royal couple breached protocol by choosing to travel on the same plane as their son. Traditionally, direct heirs in line to the throne do not fly together — and in the past, children have typically not traveled along at all, instead being left at home with a governess; Prince George’s nanny has come along on this trip. 

The second controversy revolves around the fact that the royal baby will be traveling around New Zealand and Australia in a forward-facing car seat — which was specifically requested by his parents. In both the UK and the U.S., safety guidelines suggest an infant travel in a rear-facing car seat until at least the age of one. In New Zealand, child-support services organization, Plunket, recommends babies ride in rear-facing seats until age 2 — but it was also the organization in charge of installing Prince George’s car seat into the royal ride. After receiving a barrage of criticism on its Facebook page, Plunket responded with a statement saying, in part, that they “appreciate” the feedback and “are here to provide advice and work in partnership with parents to make informed decisions that work best for them…While Plunket does recommend that children stay in rear facing seats until age two, it is not a legal requirement.”

Why did they fly commercial instead of on a private jet?
They’ve done it several times before — including on British Airways to California in 2012 and on a budget Flybe flight to cousin Zara Phillips' wedding in 2011 — and seem to enjoy it. But that’s because they tend to fly first class, of course. This time around, the family flew from London on Qantas, with tickets, typically starting from about $10,400 per person, paid for by the Australian and New Zealand governments. And besides enjoying the standard luxuries of the airline — including extra-wide seats that convert into beds with cozy sheepskin mattresses — the royal party (including Kate Middleton’s personal hairdresser, who is believed to have provided a mid-air styling) reportedly took over the entire first-class cabin. They didn't fly commercial all the way. The last leg of this trip, though, did involve a flight on a Royal New Zealand Air Force aircraft.

Who inspired Kate Middleton’s stunning bright red dress?
Though her cherry-red pillbox hat designed by Gina Foster would suggest the influence of Jackie O, the Duchess’s double-breasted dress and coat ensemble was pure Princess Diana. That’s because it was created by the British designer Catherine Walker — beloved by Prince William’s mother, who wore a similar red coat during a royal trip in 1984. As far as jewelry, though, Middleton’s diamond and platinum brooch in the shape of New Zealand’s national symbol, the silver fern, was on loan from the Queen.

Why did the royals touch noses with officials in New Zealand?
After being whisked from Wellington Airport to Government House, the official residence of New Zealand’s Governor-General, the royal couple was greeted by Maori leaders Lewis Moeau and Hira Hape. They said hello with the traditionally intimate Maori “hongi” greeting, which entails two people pressing their noses and foreheads together. 

What kind of ceremony did they watch?
After their greeting, the Duke and the Duchess stood on the sprawling lawn to watch a formal welcome ceremony dance called a Powhiri, which involved 35 Toa warriors performing a challenge called Wero to determine whether their visitors came in war or peace. After three of the spear-wielding warriors came toward the couple, one placed a dart at the prince’s feet, which he picked up while maintaining eye contact to prove he was a friend. Prince William then inspected an honor guard lineup before a 21-gun salute was fired.

What was Prince George wearing?
The wriggly little infant touched down in Wellington wearing a cream-colored cardigan sweater over a white-shorts romper with a peter-pan collar. But it was his accessory — kangaroo backpack carried by dad — that really wowed the crowds. Apparently purchased in advance of the trip by the Duke and Duchess online through Australian Koala Foundation, the $14.95 bag has reportedly sold out at many stores already and is quickly disappearing online as well. But the foundation, which notes on its website that the bag is “good enough for royalty,” is taking preorders for those who “miss out.”