Video: New Zealand praised by Prince William

The Duke of Cambridge has praised New Zealand’s people and institutions as the Duchess honoured the nation by wearing an evening dress embroidered with silver ferns.

The royal couple’s tributes came at a state reception held in their honour and they left their host - governor general Sir Jerry Mateparae - in no doubt about their feelings for the Commonwealth country.

The Duchess of Cambridge at a state reception at Government House in Wellington, New Zealand

The Duchess of Cambridge at a state reception at Government House in Wellington, New Zealand

In a speech to leading New Zealanders, William said they possessed the qualities of “warm-heartedness, generosity, neighbourliness” and had “an instinctive sense of justice and freedom”.

He said the nation was an innovator in areas such as medicine, commerce and industry, belying the small size of its population.

Kate followed the Queen’s tradition of incorporating a national emblem or colour of a host country into a gown.

Two symbols of New Zealand - the colour black and the silver fern - were the key elements of her Jenny Packham dress.

William began his speech by speaking a few words of Maori: “Rau rangatira ma o Aotearoa, Tena koutou katoa”, which translated as “Distinguished people of New Zealand, greetings to you all”.

The proud father went on to joke about his eight-month-old son Prince George, who has joined his parents on their 19-day tour of New Zealand and Australia.

He told the guests at Wellington’s Government House, the official residence of the governor general: “I hope that George doesn’t keep you up, he has been known to be particularly vocal at 3am and I swear I heard him doing the haka this morning.

“He’s a bonny lad, and you’ll be pleased to know that he’s currently preparing for life as prop forward.”

During the reception William and Kate unveiled a portrait of the Queen, commissioned for the New Zealand Portrait Gallery and painted by Kiwi artist Nick Cuthell.

The Queen held an hour-long sitting with the painter last October, and in the portrait wears a simple blue day dress adorned by her silver fern brooch, which she has lent to the Duchess for her visit to New Zealand.

Cuthell is an emerging artist who divides his time between the UK and New Zealand and in 2009 in London was commissioned to paint the director and cast of the Theatre Royal’s production of Waiting For Godot.

The Duke went on to say in his speech: “On this visit, I have no doubt that it will be Catherine - and not just me - who falls for New Zealand.

“The qualities that New Zealanders share in common with one another - warm-heartedness, generosity, neighbourliness, openness, an instinctive sense of justice and freedom, to name just a few - are qualities that I suspect, given your modesty, you may take for granted. But they are qualities for which New Zealanders are admired the world over.

“One of the things that I think we all value about New Zealand is the integrity of its institutions.”

William told the guests, who included prime minister John Key, that they would be visiting Christchurch next week and would see for themselves the progress made since the devastating earthquake in February 2011.

He added: “New Zealand’s ability to innovate reaches beyond politics into commerce, industry and quality of life. The list of inventions and technical and medical breakthroughs far outstrips New Zealand’s relatively small population.

“New Zealand should be rightly proud of its enviable history of blending continuity and innovation. Yet you combine all this with one of the most beautiful and varied landscapes in the world - and some first-class wine as well.”

The governor general gave a short speech and made the guests laugh when he told the royal couple: “Undeniably, though, the prestige goes to Prince George, and I would say there has been a hubbub of delight from New Zealanders with his arrival.”

Before dinner was served, the Duke and Duchess mingled with the guests, who included politicians and leading figures from national life, after being heralded by a flourish of trumpets from the six-strong Lance of Trumpeters.

On the menu was parmesan and horopito shortbreads with feta and tomato, smoked and potted Lake Taupo trout with oatcakes and capers, oysters on ice and braised Merino lamb tarts.

There were also dressed Waikanae crab toasts with lime and herbs, Windsor Blue and beetroot risotto balls, South Island rabbit pies, and custard tarts with kiwifruit and kaffir lime.

As the guests mingled, chatted and sipped on chilled local wine, the Royal New Zealand Air Force jazz quintet played a selection of lively tunes including Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me.