Hugs and tears flowed freely as hundreds of Kiwis from across the globe started flying into New Zealand and going home or into the community without isolating.
It comes as New Zealand - from today - opened up for isolation-free travel for Kiwis to about 120 countries.
Five flights landed at Auckland International Airport before 2pm today. Any New Zealand citizens and residents aboard were no longer required to isolate either in a managed isolation facility or at home.
For many returnees, it was likely the first time they have been able to come home in the two years New Zealand has maintained tight border restrictions.
Emirates and Singapore Airlines operated first long-haul flights carrying passengers who didnt need to quarantine or isolate into the country, alongside Fiji Airways and Air New Zealand connecting from Fiji.
There are 34 long-haul flights expected over the coming week.
It marks the second major loosening at the border this week after Kiwis flying in from Australia were on Monday allowed to land and go about their business without first isolating.
The twin border openings also mark the return of international holidays and travel, leading tourism companies to express excitement but warn much work needs to be done to reinvigorate the industry.
'So happy borders are opening'
Clara Gray was among the parents to rush to loved ones, with her son Joshua flying in from Dubai.
Husband Henry also clapped hands with his son and and embraced him in a emotional bear hug.
Joshua is a member of the Manu Samoa 7s rugby team that had been unable to play in recent tournaments after a string of players contracted Covid-19. The team had planned to base themselves in Dubai and spend an extended period away from home, but their inability to play interfered with those plans.
With MIQ requirements ending, Joshua has been able to return home much earlier than expected. Henry said the minute he found out his son wouldn't need to isolate, he worked with the Manu Samoa 7s team to book him home on the first flight.
"We are so happy the borders are opening," Henry said.
The parents said they had been worried about him in Europe with the Ukraine crisis and hasn't yet told the rest of the family Joshua was coming home. They planned to surprise everyone tonight and relax with a barbie.
"Introduce him back to a bit of Kiwiana," Henry said.
Emotional to see Mum
Christine Tulloch dashed into her daughter Ashlee's arms, hugging her right before presenting her with the flowers she had brought.
With tears building in her eyes, Ashlee said it's emotional to see her mum.
With travel being a regular part of her job, she said "she's been able to travel around the world but not home".
Christine hadn't seen her Madrid-based daughter for more than two years.
Her daughter, who had worked at the Beijing Winter Olympics, had been trying to get a room in the MIQ lottery system afterwards so she could make it back for her parents' birthdays and for a friend's wedding. But with isolation free travel now returning, she has been able to fly home on the first possible flight.
"We had been hoping the borders would open on time so she could get home for her friends weddings and our birthdays," Tulloch said.
Christine, who had driven up from Whakatane, said she was ecstatic to see her daughter. They hoped to spend precious but quiet family time together in the next few days.
'Stay open NZ'
Earlier on Monday, John Davis flew in from Australia and into the waiting hugs of his daughter, who he hadn't seen in two years.
"It feels amazing to be home, it's still quite unbelievable really," he said.
"The one thing I want to say is 'stay open NZ'."
He said all he wanted to do was spend time with his family, especially granddaughter Maddison Bryan, who is 12, but was 9 when he last saw her.
Auckland Airport general manager corporate services Mary-Liz Tuck said her team are super excited to welcome so many returning Kiwis home.
She additionally expected to soon see many Kiwis flying out of New Zealand.
"We also know revenge travel is now on the cards for thousands of Kiwis who are keen to get out and see the world again, visit friends and family overseas, or re-establish business and cultural connections," she said.
Pre-pandemic, New Zealanders made about three million trips overseas every year. About a quarter of Kiwis have been born overseas and an estimated one million live offshore.
Auckland Airport currently has 14 airlines operating international scheduled services to 25 destinations.
Pre-pandemic, the airport had 29 airlines, including seasonal carriers, heading to 43 international destinations.
Tuck said Auckland Airport's international airline customers had reacted positively to the first steps to remove the need for travellers to isolate.
"They're in a key planning phase right now for their future schedules, particularly those airlines that only connect to New Zealand during our peak summer travel season," she said.
"We've already seen Air New Zealand release its plans for restarting long-haul passenger services, plus LATAM Airlines has announced it will re-establish its connection between Santiago, Chile and with Auckland Airport at the end of March."
Tuck said the airport looked forward to New Zealand's next steps in reconnecting with the world, including allowing travellers on working holidays, international students and - by July - all travellers from Australia and visa waiver countries entering the nation.
How to bring the tourists back?
The reopening comes after New Zealand has maintained tight and largely closed borders for the better part of two years.
That's left Tourism New Zealand facing a new problem of trying to recapture the hearts and minds of potential travellers after the nation has fallen out of the consciousness of many around the world as a tourist destination.
For many visitors from the long-haul markets, New Zealand was already a once-in-five-to-10-year bucket list holiday, And now, health concerns, complexity and costs have increased since the pandemic.
Rising fuel costs are throwing another spanner into the works for airlines.
Chief executive Rene de Monchy said New Zealand is also now behind its competitors, including Australia, most notably in this part of the world.
That country opened up to vaccinated tourists last month. Under current settings New Zealand could be five months behind.
While the Government here is moving towards an earlier reopening to tourists than the July date currently planned, the existing timetable is another barrier to the recovery of the $17 billion international tourism industry, which once vied with dairy as the country's top foreign exchange earner.
"Getting tourists to a long-haul or super-long-haul destination like New Zealand — that's the really big trick — they've got to be really emotionally invested," de Monchy said.
Marketing has to cut through like never before to create that desire, and then help visitors deal with the new travel environment.
"The second part of that is travel has become more complicated. It's probably going to be more expensive ... Do I need to do a pre-test or a post-test? What about insurance?"