Excitement, relief and joy - that's how passengers described the feeling of boarding the first trans-Tasman flight out of Auckland to Sydney under the new quarantine-free bubble.
- Video by Simon Rogers
More than 5000 passengers flew today, with Air New Zealand offering roughly 30 flights.
On board, passengers donned their masks and settled down for the trip across the Tasman Sea.
While the first flight from Auckland to Sydney was not packed, those onboard were buzzing as they neared Australian shores.
Travellers were greeted by loved ones, three drag queens, and a large sign with a silver fern symbol saying 'We missed you' to welcome them to Australian shores.
Auckland residents William and Jennifer Wong had not been able to meet their first grandchild, born three months ago.
"I am so happy and excited, I've been waiting ... to book a flight right away for us to travel and it was exciting that she opened the bubble in the school holiday and I can have two weeks off from my work," Jennifer Wong said.
William said the family would all jump for joy and could not wait to meet the baby after only seeing him on a video screen.
"We have told our daughter we are leaving tomorrow but we will try to surprise her at the door. That's what we are actually doing today."
Jennifer said they had been hoping the bubble would open earlier.
"I applied in February as I thought the bubble would open, when it didn't open I was so disappointed. Now though we are so excited. We will get the first flight out to see our grandson," she said.
"Lots of cuddles, maybe take him shopping, buy him some stuff."
Mum Steph - whose one-year-old girl Nicola has not seen her grandparents, in the small coastal town of Eden since the bushfires last year - had been missing her mum's home cooking, among other things.
"I probably will break down in tears as soon as we see land and be like 'oh my god, I did miss it heaps'. It will be special, seeing my family."
Waikato resident Daphne Allen could not wait to see her daughter and 17-month-old grandson. They had managed to see each other just before lockdown, but it had been a long wait since then, with only phone and video calls.
"He's only just getting to a stage were he recognises us on Facetime, but it will be really great to see him in person, we've missed out on a lot," she said.
She started booking flights to see them in the Gold Coast before the announcement had finished.
"It means a lot, but when I hop in their car that's when I can relax, because there's been a lot to organise to get here. It means heaps."
The bubble meant a bit more travel certainty for Tywane, who had been waiting for the bubble to open so she could fly home to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.
"I'm really looking forward to it because I've been stuck here since graduating from my school," she said.
She could barely believe she'd be home by later in the day.
"It's a relief, definitely, to be back and see family and old friends."
Maria Poasa was ready for a big family reunion.
"Looking forward to seeing my children, my daughter and my son and their grandchildren. I miss them."
Air New Zealand chief operating officer Carrie Hurihanganui said staff were excited the wait was over.
"It's lovely this morning, just the smiles all around. Everyone is so excited to be here and very much we've talked about it like riding a bike actually. People are like 'that's right, I remember this and loving every minute of it'."
She said the level of demand had been promising. While today's travel was mainly reuniting family and friends, Air New Zealand is expecting that will shift towards holiday-goers closer to the winter school break.