Kiwi travellers are describing two-hour long queues through Customs and chaotic crowds at Auckland Airport as the worst they've ever seen.
Joanna Gray was flying into New Zealand from Brisbane around 5pm last night and found herself in a scene "like what you'd see in another country".
The international arrivals area was flooded with thousands of people flying in on Sunday night flights, with just two Customs officers in the area doing little to control the mayhem.
Gray said there was a lack of lanes or structured queues to direct people through to Customs, and the bag carousels were even worse.
Congestion in the hall meant travellers had to weave their way through a crowd of thousands, fighting to retrieve their bag from one carousel where the luggage from three flights was being offloaded.
"There were a lot of people in wheelchairs and a lot of people with children, it was very distressing," she said.
Through in Customs, Gray said there were several desks unmanned, despite the fact there were thousands of people to process.
Gray said she went up to one of the two Customs staffers posted in the hall and asked her what she was doing to help prioritise people in wheelchairs and with children.
She was told the airport was currently facing high demand and there was nothing the staff could do about it.
"I told her I'm not going to wait in another queue with a 5-month-old baby when I've already been waiting for 20 minutes."
At this point, Gray and her husband approached a Customs officer and asked to be fast-tracked through the queue.
They were ushered through the chaos, but the Silverdale woman said the queues they left behind looked to be at least two hours long.
Auckland Airport spokeswoman Lisa Mulitalo said while Sunday nights were always very busy, last night's backlog had been due to a series of flight delays.
"We've had a really busy peak period. Essentially three additional flights came in late, and then one landed early on top of the normal peak," she said.
"That's why it was exceptionally busy - it explains the level of people in the baggage hall."
She said if people had problems accessing their baggage they should contact their airline, which contracted baggage handling companies directly.
Gray said she had spoken to an Auckland Airport representative this morning, who said the staffing issue was the responsibility of the Ministry for Primary industries.
But Gray said this didn't explain the issues in the bag retrieval areas.
She said the whole situation was "unsafe" for the elderly and said as a Kiwi, she was embarrassed to think this was the first experience visitors would have of the country.
Australian resident Geoff Collins was also caught up in the monstrous airport queues and made it across to the domestic terminal for his connecting flight in the nick of time.
He called the experience "disastrous" and said he had to stand in the humidity with other "steamy bodies" for well over an hour.
Collins said a Customs officer told him to report the experience.
"He was obviously very embarrassed - he was just trying to do his job but there weren't nearly enough staff.
"This was the worst experience I've ever had, by far."