Staff at children’s hospice Bear Cottage say a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge has made the families feel very special.

It was the simple things that the Duchess of Cambridge did that made the difference. A personal greeting and chat, a smile, singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star alongside small children facing the biggest fight.

There were no airs and graces, just a young mother bringing smiles to sick young children being cared for at Bear Cottage in Manly, one of only two children’s hospices in Australia.

The palliative care of sick children is a cause close to Kate’s heart, as she is the royal patron of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices in the UK and has visited similar centres in Malaysia and New Zealand.

While Kate toured the centre’s playroom, quiet room and music therapy garden, meeting with children some of whom were wheelchair bound or confined to stretchers, Prince William met privately with families.

Wearing a cream lace Zimmermann dress, Kate sat on a wooden garden bench and played a drum, singing the nursery rhyme with the children taking part in music therapy.

During an informal afternoon tea attended by families and centre staff as well as NSW Premier Mike Baird and Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the duchess made her first speech of the visit.

“It really is wonderful to be here today – having the chance to meet you all and to see the incredible work of Bear Cottage,” the duchess said.

“The haven that you have created here is inspirational, and there is so much that you can share with each other as you continue to support and nurture those in your care.”

There was a special moment for 16-year-old Daniel Howarth, who suffers from a lung disease and had a Union Jack flag strapped to his wheelchair.

“Very nice to meet you, Daniel,” Kate said.

His dad Adam, 44, said it was amazing for Daniel to meet the duchess.

“We explained to Kate that Daniel’s got chronic lung disease and cerebral palsy and we’ve been coming here for 10 years after major surgery,” said Mr Howarth, who was at the centre with his wife Deborah, 43, Daniel, and 10-year-old son Lachlan.

“Daniel likes sport, Chelsea, so she was asking us all about sport and telling us her husband supports Aston Villa, and we talked a little about the English Premier League. She’s so natural, engaging and friendly.”

Sophie Martyr, 16, wearing a red bandanna after undergoing cancer treatment, was still shaking after presenting the couple with an artwork painted by Bear Cottage kids.

“It was amazing, it was just unforgettable,” Ms Martyr told AAP.

“He (William) asked me about how I’m going and how I’m feeling.”

Bear Cottage nurse Philly Smith, 44, talked with the duke in the garden.

“I think he made the families feel very special,” Ms Smith said.

“One of the children is a similar age to his so he talked about that.”

The royals then left – 20 minutes late – but before getting in the royal motorcade, Kate thrilled the crowd by meeting a number of fans and receiving flowers and a toy footy.

On his way out, Mr Abbott said it was a “fabulous afternoon for Bear Cottage”.

“These are magnificent people here. There are some very special and brave kids here,” Mr Abbott told AAP.

“To get this visit from Prince William and the duchess is just extraordinary.”