Emotions ran high on Monday as excited passengers set off on the first flights to take advantage of a quarantine-free travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand, allowing families split when borders closed almost 400 days ago to finally reunite.
"(I'll) yell, scream, cry, hug, kiss, (feel) happy – all of these emotions at once," said Denise O'Donoghue, 63, at Sydney airport as she prepared to board her flight.
The arrangement means that for the first time since the pandemic closed borders worldwide, passengers can fly in either direction across the Tasman Sea without undergoing mandatory Covid-19 quarantine when they arrive.
"It's a very big day and exciting for families and friends," said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who hailed the success of both countries in containing the virus as a key factor in allowing the travel corridor.
Australia was New Zealand's largest source of international tourists before the pandemic, accounting for about 1.5 million arrivals or 40 percent of total visitors in 2019.
But on the first day of the bubble, most of the travellers were returning New Zealanders, with tourists expected to start arriving in large numbers during the upcoming Australian school holidays.
On a grass embankment at the foot of Wellington Airport's runway, the words 'WELCOME WHANAU' (family) were spelled out in giant letters.
In the airport terminal, Maori dancers performed a traditional powhiri welcoming ceremony for the arrivals.
Lorraine Wratt, a New Zealander stranded by the pandemic while visiting family in Australia, said it was "wonderful" to be able to travel again.
"We're very excited to be heading back home but we're going to miss our family (in Australia) big time," she said. "We came to Australia on December 11 to spend Christmas with our children... planning to go back in February, it's been a bit of a nightmare."
Australia is home to hundreds of thousands of expatriate New Zealanders and before coronavirus many regularly shuttled back and forth across the Tasman on three-hour flights.
"It's like it's one big country, so it's very good to open the borders, it will help all the families," said Mehat El Masri as he waited to see his Sydney-based son Shady for the first time in 16 months.
"We appreciate it. We're doing very well in New Zealand and Australia with precautions and keeping things under control... we're fortunate compared to the rest of the world." (AFP)
Hugs, tears as Australia-NZ travel bubble opens
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