The "team of 5 million" has been reconnected with an economy of 25 million and that is a relief. But it was instructive to do a circuit of the South Island in the weeks before the border re-opened. It was like being at a banquet laid out for a larger crowd.
It was not, I have to admit, the scene of desperation I expected in places that had been deprived of their overseas market for a year. There were others like me on the road, the towns were alive, cafes had people at their tables, hotel carparks were well occupied overnight. Souvenir shops were surviving.
New Zealanders were seeing more of the country for once and if, like me, they hadn't been a tourist in their own country for many years, they were probably surprised at the quality.
I'm economy class, choosing accommodation on price and proximity rather than luxury. A motel for an overnight stop is fine for me, but the comparable accommodation you are offered by online booking sites these days is much better.
It's liable to be someone's holiday home or a cottage on their farm or vineyard, or a small chalet they have built near their house, possibly attached to it, for a second income. It may be no bigger than a motel but its provisions are far more considerate.
There may be more than milk in the fridge. There is likely to be a generously stocked pantry and plenty of spare pillows and towels in the cupboards. Their colours may be warm, not white. All the furnishings appear to have been carefully chosen with pride for the place and care for the guest.
It makes me immensely proud that this is the New Zealand visitors have seen in recent years, or at least those who didn't use a campervan. We are more than a lovely landscape now though the scenery is still breathtaking, especially the Clutha canyons in autumn.
If, like me, you didn't see the south in the tourism boom you can see where it has been. Every kilometre or so, arrows have been painted on the roads indicating the direction of travel on each side - a simple, ingenious, Kiwi solution to a hazard that was horrendous when a few tragedies happened.
The roads are still narrow and winding and the speed limit still 100km/h, too fast for their conditions. The South Island has few passing lanes for some reason but the locals are more patient than they used to be, obviously accustomed to following a tourist.
The scale of the boom struck me most vividly after coming through the Haast and stopping for the night at Makarora, a hamlet of A-frame chalets on a river flowing down to Lake Wānaka. I have a childhood memory of my family spending a night there, feeling far from anywhere.
This time, I'd just sat down outside with a glass of red to enjoy the fading day in alpine silence when a light plane flew low up the valley. I watched it descend and circle and land on a grass strip beside the river. A few minutes later, another appeared between the mountains and it, too, circled down and landed.
Then another, and another. So it continued. At times there two planes circling while one landed. Eventually I wandered down for a closer look at this little airfield that seemed busier than Auckland's at that time. No fewer than 15 light planes lined the field, with groups of passengers lingering around them chatting.
It turned out to be yet another base for scenic flights around Mt Cook, the Glaciers and Southern Lakes. Every place we'd passed in South Westland seemed to be offering them. They must need air traffic control up there.
It was remarkable that they still had so much business after a year without international tourism. It makes you wonder, do we need it? Might our industries survive well enough on their domestic markets alone?
I shudder to ask these questions. Self-sufficiency has a powerful appeal to people in all countries but particularly in those surrounded by sea and particularly when a feared virus is still circulating and mutating in the world beyond.
But there is really no future in isolation. A "team of five million" did not produce an industry of the quality and scale of New Zealand's tourism today. A mere 10 years ago we were a "stadium of four million" for the Rugby World Cup. That's how fast the population has grown with a well-governed economy open, connected and competing in the world.
The transtasman bubble has been unequivocally welcomed. Deprived of wider destinations, many more Australians than ever, are going to know the warmth of our hospitality and the beauty of this country. May the rest of the world return soon.