Prince William is scheduled to pop halfway around the globe to visit New Zealand and Australia in response to invitations from the countries' prime ministers.
He's flying solo on the mid-March trip, leaving fiancee Kate Middleton behind in London. The prince's five-day tour will include areas hit hard by natural disasters in New Zealand's Christchurch and the Australian Queensland region, where he will meet victims and members of emergency and support services.
The prince will make the trip on behalf of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, who is the official head of state in New Zealand and Australia. A palace spokesman said, "The royal family have been watching the natural disasters with the same shock and sadness as everyone else. They wanted to show their solidarity with the people of New Zealand and Australia."
The first stop on the royal agenda: Christchurch. The earthquake that clobbered New Zealand's second largest city in February killed more than 166 people. In Australia, the prince will journey to areas and towns devastated by recent cyclones and overwhelming floods.
Prince William will speak at a memorial service for the New Zealand earthquake victims March 18. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told reporters today that William's "heart-warming gesture" to speak at the memorial "will mean a lot to the thousands of people whose lives have been forever changed by these events."
Key added, "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."
The prince last visited the far-flung commonwealth countries in January 2010.