Covid 19 coronavirus: Family, friends reunite on day one of transtasman bubble

A two-way travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia has finally begun after more than a year of closed borders.

About 400 quarantine-free flights per week will arrive and depart Auckland Airport on transtasman routes operated by Air New Zealand, Jetstar and Qantas by the end of April – a stark contrast to the 36 flights to and from Australia in the first week of April.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Breakfast this morning she was looking forward to seeing family and friends reunited as the transtasman bubble began.

Today 2000 New Zealanders would head off shore and 3000 would arrive in the country. “That’s really positive for us as we really want the inward flow to stimulate the economy,” Ardern said.

From July to September New Zealand is expecting an influx of Aussies arriving in the South Island for skiing and expected Australian tourism to back to 80 per cent by the beginning of 2022.

Ardern thanked Kiwis for following the rules and making the “unique” arrangement between Australia and New Zealand possible.

While New Zealand was still focused in opening up quarantine travel to the Cook Islands in May, she said there were ways to mitigate and concerns New Zealand had if for example Australia opened up its bubble to Singapore.

As confidence in the bubble grows, experts believe Australian travellers could shoot at least $1 billion into the national economy – a godsend for struggling local businesses hit by the global pandemic and 12-month border closure.

Family and friends reunite

With her two brothers also in Australia, Heath spoke to the Herald about how hard the separation from her beloved mother had been.

“At the beginning, she was very, very teary saying, ‘I’m never going to see you again’, and we were like, ‘No it’s okay’, but at 85 you just don’t know,” she said.

“It has been awful, but thank goodness for digital technology because otherwise it would have been absolutely horrendous.”

Normally, Heath crossed the ditch about four times a year. Now her whānau would be spacing out their trips to share time with their mother, who is in a rest home.

Heath expressed her gratitude for how New Zealand handled the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I’ve been really happy knowing that [mum] has been there, knowing that she’s safe.”

Annie Kane is on her way to visit her sick brother in Melbourne, who she has not seen for two years.

She already had a flight and MIQ booked prior to the announcement of the transtasman bubble, so she was feeling blessed that she now no longer had to quarantine.

Cheryl Mackie was departing from Wellington to go see her two daughters and grandson in Melbourne. “It’s been 13 months,” she said. “I never thought the day would come actually.

“I can’t believe I’m here. I always thought there’d be another obstacle.”

Angus Crampton was also at Wellington Airport to catch a flight to Sydney to be reunited with his brother Sam.

“My sister won a competition to get four return flights over, which is awesome.

“We’re heading out!”

Crampton said his brother would have a box of newborn puppies waiting in the car.

Dan and Jacqui Cottrell, with sons Charlie, Zachary and William, were off to Melbourne to see family who hadn’t yet met their youngest boy. “[We’re] a bit emotional,” Jacqui Cottrell said. “They haven’t met this little guy yet.”

Dan said they would be driving up through Victoria to Albury, near the border with New South Wales.

“Jacqui is there for six weeks. I’ve got 10 days, I’ve got to get back to work.”

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said he relished the ability to bring whānau together again.

“We’re humbled to be part of these reunions and reconnecting people who have missed out on so much over the last year.”

He anticipated the national carrier would operate more than 300 flights per week during the July school holidays.

Customers should plan to check-in at least three hours prior to departure on transtasman flights. Masks are required on board and in the airports.

Rara Akariri was at Auckland Airport, headed for Melbourne to see her daughter and five grandchildren, who are aged between 7 and 14. She hasn’t seen them for two years.

Akariri said she was “over the moon” to hear about the transtasman bubble and expects it will be a tearful reunion on the other side when she arrives.

Philip and Shobna Hillman were travelling to Sydney to visit a cousin and attend a wedding on Saturday. They had family and friends in Australia and hadn’t visited since 2018.

Their biggest sacrifice had been leaving their daughter behind, they said.

“If it does go to custard, we don’t want her to be stuck in Australia,” Philip said.

“If it blows out in Australia, the bubble’s off. If it blows out in New Zealand, the bubble’s off.”

But Shobna said she was hopeful the bubble was here to stay.

“We’ve done well, it’s pretty amazing,” she said.

“I think our management has been really good.”

Peter Ferguson and his daughter Ciara, 9, were returning to Sydney after visiting family in Wellington.

Their travel had been planned Pre-bubble announcement, which was unfortunate timing but Ferguson said he was just relieved the bubble was now open.

As a Kiwi living in Australia, Ferguson said it had been tough to have the air bridge between the two countries closed since March 2020.

“Being a Kiwi living in Sydney, jumping on a plane to Wellington – where my parents are based – has been so easy in the past,” he said.

“My parents come across several times a year and Ciara often flies unaccompanied in the school holidays to see my parents.”

He was “cautiously optimistic” the trans-Tasman travel bubble would run smoothly.

“I’ve been really impressed with the way Australia and New Zealand have managed it,” he said.

“Australia and New Zealand are a great example to the rest of the world.”

Maithily Thanikasalam was travelling to Sydney with her two children Keeran, 14, and Vaani, 9, to see her parents for the first time in over a year.

The family would be spending two weeks in Australia, as the children were luckily on school holidays.

“We’re pretty excited to be on the first flight out of Wellington,” she said.

She was looking forward to spending time with her parents and for her kids to see their cousins.

Great to see Tasman going again

The first flight took off just after 7.30am. Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said it’s an important day that has taken a long time to get to.

“It’s great to see Tasman going again, something that used to be about as uneventful as going to the supermarket, so it’s certainly an exciting thing to get back to normal.”

He said the transtasman bubble has taken longer than anticipated. “I think the path has been a bit unclear as we’ve all lived through the realities of Covid, and there’s no straight-shot out of it either, there’s always risks of things changing as we look ahead.

“The tourism industry and all travellers will be waiting to see how people feel about travelling again internationally, but I think it will gradually come back.”

Littlewood told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Yardley there were 32 return flights scheduled today. Last week there were 36 flights to Australia across the entire week.

“We’ve got a range of ports across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, as well as Gold Coast coming in. Later this week we’ll have Hobart for the first time. So all up, nine ports across Australia.”

Littlewood said Australia was Auckland Airport’s biggest market and the Tasman connection was critical to the bottom line.

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