WELLINGTON – As the passengers walked a little dazed through the airport gates, they were embraced one after another by family members who rushed forward and dissolved into tears.
Elation and relief marked the opening of a long-anticipated travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand at the Wellington Airport on Monday. Children held balloons and banners and Indigenous Maori performers welcomed the arrivals home with songs.
The start of quarantine-free travel was a long time coming for families who have been separated by the coronavirus pandemic as well as to struggling tourist operators. It marked the first, tentative steps toward what both countries hope will become a gradual reopening to the rest of the world.
Danny Mather was overcome to see his pregnant daughter Kristy and his baby grandson for the first time in 15 months after they flew in from Sydney for a visit on the first flight after the bubble opened. What did they say to each other?
“Not a thing,” he said, laughing. They just hugged. “It's just so good to see her and I'm just so happy to have her back.”
Kristy Mather said it was overwhelming to be reunited with her family and it was amazing the bubble had opened.
“I wished it had happened earlier, but it's happened now," she said. “I just wanted to get on that first flight because you never know, it may go south. Let's hope it sticks around."
Danny Mather said he wanted to keep New Zealand safe from the virus but also thought the time was right to open the bubble.