Tears flowed down Ashleigh Green’s cheeks as she embraced her Melbourne-based mother, between them her son Boston meeting his grandmother for the first time.
In the year since they’d last met in person since Covid-19 escalated the world over heavily restricting travel, Green had given birth to her first child.
“It was hard, not having mum there. I have an amazing partner and friends, but you just can’t compete with having your mother around at a time like that.”
So as soon as the transtasman bubble was announced two weeks ago, her mother Marleen was on the first flight to Auckland out of Melbourne.
Embracing soon after exiting customs, tears flowed as the three hugged for the first time, only broken by warm laughter as Boston broke into a big smile.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for so long. This is what New Zealand is about, bringing people together, welcoming people back home.”
Their story of reunification was seen right across the motu at New Zealand’s international airports, drenched in aroha with overjoyed stories of weddings, tragic tales of funerals and delight at greeting newborn babies as the long-awaited travel bubble with Australia got under way.
Also in Auckland, Oina Luatine and her granddaughter Ashleigh waited patiently for another granddaughter, Porchae, to arrive from Melbourne.
On Tuesday one of Luatine’s daughters is getting married, and Porchae, the only close family member overseas, was lucky to snap up one of the first flights home to make the special day.
“It was so lucky, the timing, I was really worried I might have missed the wedding,” Porchae told the Herald, soon after landing.
There was also wedding news in the works for Seamus Matamua and fiancé Auilagi Vaifale, waiting to see Matamua’s parents arriving from Sydney.
It was the first time Vaifale met them, with the couple marrying in June. “
I’m very excited, but a bit nervous,” she told the Herald.
Matamua said it had been over two years since he’d seen his parents and he could not wait to be reunited.
“It’s going to be quite emotional. I’m really looking forward to them finally meeting Auilagi.”
It was also a chance to celebrate his mother’s 60th birthday from March, when they’d meant to fly to Australia but had to cancel because of rising Covid-19 cases there.
Once they arrived though the parents were too emotional to comment, tears streaming down cheeks as they all embraced.
For the Finau whānau it was “mixed emotions”, with Amelia Finau reuniting with her sister Melefale Finganofo. On Tuesday they bury their brother.
“It is lucky she has got to come back, a lot of families have missed out on that opportunity unfortunately,” Finau’s son Tetai said. “So we are lucky, very happy to see her, but it is mixed emotions.”
For 5-year-old Kingi, he got the biggest birthday surprise he could have imagined.
About eight months ago he’d been living in Melbourne with his mother, Jessie-Lyn, but returned to Aotearoa with his father.
As soon as the bubble opened, Jessie-Lyn booked a flight home.
It had to be Monday, Kingi’s birthday, but the family decided to keep it as a surprise.
“I’ll never forget his face – he had no idea,” Jessie-Lyn told the Herald, soon after walking through the arrivals gate.
“Then he saw me, and just rushed over. It is so special to be home.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was disappointed Cabinet was meeting today at the same time the first Transtasman flight landed in Wellington, as she would have loved to have been a bystander watching people reunite at the airport.
“I would have loved to have been a bystander, seeing those families being reunited for the first time,” she said.
“A scene from Love Actually is how I’d anticipate it would look and it would feel.”
During her post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon, Ardern described the bubble with Australia as an “important milestone” in New Zealand’s economic recovery.
“It is truly exciting,” she added.
About 400 quarantine-free flights a week are expected to arrive and depart from 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.
Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said it was an important day that had 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.”
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