New Zealand and Australia combine in a transtasman bubble, treating travellers from each country as the same from April 19. Photo Montage / NZ Herald, File
“We’re heading out!” a delighted Angus Crampton, declared at Wellington Airport before catching a flight to Sydney to see his family.
Sydney-based Rowan Heath will also see her 85-year-old mother Heather in Auckland today, one of many tearful reunions as quarantine-free flights finally begin between New Zealand and Australia.
Heath, a 58-year-old teacher from Manly, will be one of the first Australians to take advantage of the transtasman travel bubble opening when she lands about 4.30pm.
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.
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7.05am: Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood
7.10am: NZ Herald Travel writer Juliette Sivertsen – on first Auckland-Sydney flight
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.
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.”
More than 5000 Air New Zealand passengers are booked to travel between the two countries on Monday aboard 30 flights between Brisbane, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Perth, Sydney, and Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
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.
The first flight is due to take 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 unventful as going to the supermarket, so it’s certainly an exciting thing to get back to normal.”
He said the trans-Tasman 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.”
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 hs 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 Cotrell 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 come 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.
The Australian Travel Declaration must be completed at least 72 hours before departure, along with any state declarations. More details can be found at airnz.click/QFT2AU.
Nineteen-year-old Tyson Kempton was leaving from Auckland, bound for Sydney to visit his girlfriend who moved there a month ago. He’s excited to see her and is looking forward to a big hug at the arrivals gate, something not possible only hours earlier.
Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood expected potential travellers to be cautious at first, as confidence in the bubble grew.
“We saw it unfold in the domestic market, where passenger numbers have gradually recovered since New Zealand began moving out of lockdown nearly a year ago.”
From Wellington this week, there will be 27 return flights to Australia increasing to about 40 per week by the end of May. Pre-Covid, Australia and the Cook Islands accounted for 66 per cent of Wellington Airport’s international travel.
Tourism New Zealand is predicting Australian travellers could bring in at least $1b by the end of the year.
In 2019, Australian visitors accounted for 19 per cent of the total international tourism market spend in Auckland with a value of about $933m.
Money was far from many travellers minds on Monday morning however, as excited passengers checked in at 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.
In a joint statement, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the start of two-way quarantine-free travel reflected the sustained efforts of both countries in managing the virus.
Morrison called today’s milestone a “win-win” for Australians and New Zealanders. “Both countries have done a remarkable job in protecting our communities from Covid and two-way flights are an important step in our road out.”
Ardern said it was “truly exciting” to start quarantine-free travel with Australia. “Be it returning family, friends or holiday makers, New Zealand says welcome and enjoy yourself.
“The bubble marks a significant step in both countries’ reconnection with the world and it’s one we should all take a moment to be very proud of.”
The Tasman leaders said in the statement that Australia and New Zealand were exploring opportunities to expand quarantine-free travel to other countries in the Pacific when it is safe to do so.
Auckland mayor Phil Goff welcomed the bubble’s anticipated boost to local business, as well as its social benefits.
“The lockdowns have been tough for everyone on both sides of the Tasman, and I know there will be many people who will be thrilled to be reunited with their loved ones, here and in Australia.
“It will give a much-needed boost to those involved in providing tourism, hospitality and retail services, whose jobs and businesses were badly affected by the border closure caused by the pandemic.”