Families and friends shared emotionally charged reunions at airports across New Zealand on Wednesday, as packed planes bring those separated by Covid-19 restrictions together in time for Christmas.
Auckland mum Valerie von Geldern was overjoyed to see her teenage son Gabe Melrose for the first time since leaving home to study at Victoria University.
"Oh my gosh, it's everything," she said. "It's a bit overwhelming, to be honest, watching everyone coming through.
"It's his first year at uni and you can't help it."
Auckland lockdown measures had meant she couldn't send him care packages and "the kinds of things you wanted to do as a mum".
Gabe Melrose said he was pleased to be back in Auckland and looking forward to catching up with friends.
General manager operations at Auckland Airport, Anna Cassels-Brown, said people began arriving in the terminal just after 5am.
"We've gone from an average of 600 travellers per day to more than 20,000 travellers today," she said.
"The place is buzzing, and all our staff are really excited that it has gone off so well. Even though they are wearing masks you can see the smiles – they're just so happy to be looking after more customers once again."
Another happy mum was Terry Kraettli, who was at Auckland Airport early this morning to welcome home her daughter, Alisha, and son-in-law Guy Hasler.
Alisha Hasler revealed she and her husband - whose family is also from Auckland - had moved to Christchurch in July when the lockdown happened.
"It was really hard to be separated at that time."
She said seeing her mum waiting for them at the arrival gate just brought everything back.
"I didn't expect to be emotional, but it just all came out when I saw mum."
They will spend Christmas in Auckland with their families before heading back home to Christchurch around the end of February.
"As soon as [Prime Minister] Jacinda Ardern said the 15th, we were on the Air New Zealand site looking for the earliest flight up."
Traveller numbers are set to build over the coming week and peak on Thursday, December 23, just in time for Christmas.
Meanwhile, a small queue of cars began waiting at checkpoints in the south and north of the city from 11pm.
Police estimated fewer than 100 vehicles went through each of the main borders at Mercer and Te Hana and said the early morning traffic was flowing freely.
A police spokesperson said generally there were no issues reported, no major delays with only "very small numbers" of vehicles being turned around.
Te Tai Tokerau Border Control leader Hone Harawira said he had been at the Northland checkpoint at midnight, when the weather was "stormy". Despite that, he said hundreds of people had been checked and got through.
"Haere mai," Harawira said.
"It's about making sure those that do come are not going to impact adversely on our population."
More than 27,000 people are expected to travel in and out of Auckland Airport's domestic terminals.
"On our busiest days heading into Christmas before the pandemic we would have consistently had around 30,000 people through each day, so we know the terminal can handle the current volumes," Cassels-Brown said.
Cassels-Brown said travellers over the coming weeks should expect a few differences to the air travel experience.
"One is that you have to wear a mask in the terminal as well as during your flight. I was in the terminal earlier today and didn't see a single customer or worker not wearing a mask, which shows just how great we Aucklanders are at doing the right thing.
"The second piece of advice is to make sure you are at the terminal a good hour before your flight for the extra checks on vaccine passes or the negative Covid test which will be done during airline check-in and could create some delay."