A New Zealand family based in Melbourne managed to get a room in MIQ in the latest ballot - only to find no flights matched the date of their room and the only way to get back was to fly via Singapore at a cost of $11,000.
Abby Finn said she had hoped to return to New Zealand for the first time in two years with her husband and two daughters, aged 2 and 4.
They missed out in the first ballot but in the second was placed at about 1,800 in the queue – high enough to get a room.
"I said 'yes, yes, we're in!' and the kids were running around and I said 'we're going to go and see granny and grandpa!'
Pre-Christmas slots were booked out so Finn booked a room in early November, which would have allowed her to celebrate her 40th birthday in New Zealand.
But when she clicked through to book flights she discovered the only flights that arrived in Auckland that day went via Doha, Singapore or Los Angeles – at great cost.
She did find a direct flight which would arrive two days before her room booking – but could not change the date her room was booked for.
"You cannot change your dates once you've booked it and if there are no flights on that date, tough."
She contacted a travel agent but the best he could do was a 22-hour journey via Singapore for $11,000 - which the family could not afford.
She did not understand why the booking system let her select a date if there were no flights available for that date – and there was no flexibility in changing that date.
She said the process had been stressful and confusing from the start.
"I get that it is difficult, but there has to be a better way to do it. I just feel so dreadfully sorry for those people who are going back to see someone who is ill, or an elderly parent.
"Those people I think it's embarrassing, to be frank, that New Zealand has gone down this path. To think you can't get back into your country, that is probably the bit that makes me most upset."
Both Finn and her husband Richard were vaccinated and she hoped that would be a factor in travel.
"There was no consideration around whether you had been vaccinated, and I thought the point to this whole thing was that the vaccinations were going to get us out of this.
"My kids haven't seen their grandparents for nearly two years. They are missing out on seeing them grow up. It's just sad."
The Government is proposing shorter MIQ stays and home isolation for vaccinated travellers, but that is unlikely to kick in until next year.
Finn said she had not decided how long they would have stayed in New Zealand – but it had been a stressful period of never-ending lockdowns in Australia.
Finn said the family had gone through 14 lockdowns and isolation periods in Australia in both Melbourne and Western Australia since Covid-19 arrived. She had found that very difficult, especially with young children.
"It has honestly been the most stressful year. I know we are not dying, nobody has got Covid and I am definitely grateful for that and have to remind myself that it's not that bad. But in the moment it is exceptionally stressful."
Finn could still joke about it a bit - noting the worst thing was that her daughter was starting to speak with an Australian accent.