After a year of anticipation, quarantine-free ‘green’ flights between Australia and New Zealand began today, making this the world’s second such travel bubble in a world still under attack from Covid-19.
Following their mutual achievement in reducing group cases and monitoring Covid-19 at the border, Australia and New Zealand have joined Taiwan and Palau as neighbours offering reciprocal, restriction-free travel.
RNZ reporter Tess Brunton who was among passengers on the first flight out of Auckland bound for Sydney was thrilled to land in the country of her birth and looking forward to seeing her family again.
#UPDATE The first planeload of people flying from Auckland to Australia under the Trans-Tasman bubble has landed.
RNZ reporter @TessBrunton489 on board reports: Auckland to Sydney has landed safely and early.
Latest updates in link below 👇 https://t.co/OkKgz2fG3C
— RNZ (@radionz) April 18, 2021
Auckland woman Machelle told RNZ she was heading to Australia to see her daughter and mokopuna.
It has been 15 months since she’s seen them and she could not disguise her joy at the prospect of seeing them and giving them a hug.
“Hallelujah. I’m just ecstatic because the last time I saw them, she just had her second child and I left when she was seven days old, so the universe has opened.”
As soon as the bubble opened up she went online to book and was not worried about being stuck over there – her priority was seeing her family.
“Those are the risks you take, I suppose, when you haven’t seen family in a long time. If I have to stay there for a month I’ll stay there for a month.”
Daphne Allen from Pirongia in Waikato was heading across the Tasman to see her daughter and young grandson. She last saw them in March 2020. Her grandson is 17 months old – she’s only seen him twice.
“It’ll be great to see them in person. We’ve missed out on a lot,” she said.
She was looking forward to giving them a hug and playing with her grandson.
Papamoa woman Hannah Halbert boarded one of the first quarantine-free flights to the Gold Coast today and said she was “running on adrenaline” after weeks of anticipation at the prospect of seeing friends and family again.
Halbert said she was with her family in Australia when New Zealand’s lockdown began, and had to rush back.
She has not seen her twin sister since and was travelling to the Gold Coast with her daughter.
Aroha McAdam was heading to Perth, saying beforehand: “I’m so nervous, I’m trying really hard not to cry”.
She was on her way to see her boyfriend for the first time since they met online a year before.
Josh Nichols, another tourist, was travelling to Western Australia for work today.
He was pleased to learn that he would be able to return to his home country with even less difficulty.
Nichols said he had spent a few weeks in New Zealand visiting relatives and children after living near Perth for two years.
Last month, he was scheduled to return to work via Queensland when his flights and border pass were cancelled due to a partial lockdown.
Nichols was flying from Auckland Airport on one of the first ‘green zone’ flights around the Tasman.
He said that not being able to see his children on a daily basis had a negative impact on him.
Australia-based travellers just as keen
On the other side of the Tasman, there were equally excited travellers today.
In Sydney, Heather Lyberopoulos, 56, an anxious aunty ready to reunite with her sister, told the ABC she “had to be” on the first flight out.
“It’s some sort of normality for me to be able to go home. I’m grateful,” she said.
“I’ve missed one funeral, one graduation. We had to live stream, but we adapted.”
She has booked a one-way flight, aware the situation could quickly change.
For Wilana Rawiri, 29, hotel quarantine was a “deal-breaker”.
“We weren’t going to go back, but we have a funeral so we’re just blessed that it’s opened up in time for us to go and pay our respects,” she said.
“We’re grateful. It’s just in time.”
Isabella Buckney, 26, and Troy Godfrey, 25, were moving to New Zealand today.
Chasing winter, the couple will spend some time with family in Auckland before a move to Queenstown in time for the snow season.
“We had our flights booked for May last year … so we’ve been waiting since then,” Buckney said.
Godfrey said today marked a significant day in the pandemic.
“It’s a massive point in the whole pandemic in terms of getting to that new stage of adapting to life,” he said.
“It marks a new stage and I’m glad it’s finally happening.”
Buckney said the special position Australia and New Zealand were in during the pandemic, made travelling “feel natural”.
“If I was flying anywhere else, maybe I wouldn’t feel so calm,” she said.
Other passengers were just as keen to take off.
— Bianca Stone (@Bianca_Stone) April 18, 2021
Lasi is heading back to Wellington to surprise her 6-year-old for the first time in one and a half years! She says there’s going to be lots of happy tears @SBSNews #transtasmanbubble #nz pic.twitter.com/dynbCqwO2e
— Amelia Dunn (@Amelia_Dunn1) April 18, 2021
— Amelia Dunn (@Amelia_Dunn1) April 18, 2021
RNZ / ABC