It was a welcome break not just for those who watched and read the news, but also for those who covered it.
The last year has been marked by a barrage of negative news.
Terror incidents, mass killings, and insurgencies have occurred. Most notably, a pandemic has swept the world, resulting in countless deaths and interminable suffering.
So it came as a surprise to turn on the tv on Monday night to see bulletins filled with laughter, disgorging themselves with raw enthusiasm and relief.
On 1 News and Newshub, grandparents were meeting their mokopuna for the first time. Children were getting long-awaited hugs from their dads.
Even duty free shop owners were lighting up with excitement, at the prospect of seeing an actual customer or two.
The day wasn’t just joyful though. It was also weird.
A troupe of what appeared to be mimes marched around Melbourne Airport holding translucent balloons in an interpretive dance aimed at showing the significance of the bubble.
At Melbourne Airport, an interpretive dance welcomes trans-Tasman passengers. Supplied photo / ABC News
Meanwhile, in New Zealand, all of the heartfelt reunions were taking place against the backdrop of classic tracks.
As each plane touched down in Auckland, a choir sang “Welcome Home.”
Stewart Sowman-Lund of The Spinoff was stationed at the airport and recorded his emotional decline as he listened to Dobbyn’s 2006 hit hundreds of times in a row.
His first update went like this:
“We’re into the 25th minute of a constant performance of Dave Dobbyn’s Welcome Home as the first arrivals from Jetstar flight JQ201 step into the Auckland International Airport arrivals area.”
An hour later, he issued the following update.
“The marathon performance of Welcome Home has wrapped after a ‘tight’ 60 minutes as the final arrivals from JQ201 enter the terminal.”
Before finally, he gave one final entry:
At least he wasn’t in Queenstown, where passengers emerged red-eyed and blinking to a full band playing Men At Work’s 1980 hit ‘Down Under’.
Other Aussie arrivals were accosted with the chorus line ‘take me to the April sun in Cuba’, which seemed ambitious given how much effort had gone into just getting them to the southern tourist town.
Overall, the reunion day was a breath of fresh air in a year that had far more downs than ups.
This was so not only for those who watch and read the news, but also for those who write on it.
AAP reporter Ben McKay was stationed at Wellington Airport for the day and claims it was one of the most “joyful, enriching” stories he’s covered in New Zealand over his two-year stay.
McKay is an Australian who doubted the travel bubble would burst after Labour secured a definitive election mandate thanks to its cautious Covid policy.
“I realised I had a bit to process. I’d been unable to go home for over a year, trapped in my paradise prison. And now, I could. No question it fed into my reporting,” he says.
Many of his interviews from the day were emotional.
There was a woman called Bee who was about to see her son for the first time in 18 months, and a seven-year-old, with her grandparents, who was about to see her mum for the first time in a year.
“I was a bit of an unprofessional mess,” McKay says. “But the episode feeds one of my beliefs as a journalist, that no one is unbiased; we carry our experiences into each situation and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. I try to lean into my gut feeling for stories and angles. My gut was telling me this was a day to wallow in the emotion.”
For a day, it felt New Zealand was healing. Things were looking up. We had our Australian cousins back.
Then, 24 hours later, we had Covid-19 back in the country, with the announcement a border worker had tested positive.
Still, most of us – including journalists – were just happy to get a little bit of time off the pandemic.
Hopefully one day soon, that respite will last longer than 24 hours.