The first Kiwis returning from Australia without the need for managed isolation has arrived at Auckland Airport - to emotional scenes.
As expected there was plenty of tears, hugs and high emotion as passengers arrived on the first flight from Sydney around 3.15pm - 246 days after the transtasman travel bubble was paused because of Covid-19.
It is one of five flights expected at the airport today, with another flight to land in Christchurch.
As passengers continue to step outside the arrivals gate, loved ones rush towards them.
People are hugging, crying, and laughing. For some families, it's been more than two years since they've been together.
Newstalk ZB's William Terite says he's seen grandparents meeting their grandchildren for the first time.
"It feels amazing to be home, it's still quite unbelievable really," one of the passengers, John Davis, told the Herald. "The one thing I want to say is 'stay open NZ'."
All he wants to do at this stage is to spend time with family, especially his granddaughter Maddison Bryan, 12. She was 9 the last time he saw her, Davis said.
Seneuefa and Ikenassio Silao were also thrilled to have their 18-year-old daughter Lucia Silao home after four months.
She was meant to visit her grandparents for just a couple of weeks in November, but got caught when the borders closed.
"It's great to be home, I just want to catch up on everything that I've missed," said Lucia.
Today is day one of the first stage of New Zealand's easing of border restrictions, with fully vaccinated Kiwis and other eligible travellers from Australia allowed to return home.
Four Air New Zealand flights and one Qantas service will arrive from Melbourne, Sydney and Perth today carrying just over 900 passengers.
Air NZ chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty says: "Emotions will be running high today as New Zealand citizens and permanent residents who have been waiting to come home from Aussie board their flight.
"Having the certainty they will be touching down on home soil and reuniting with friends and whānau in just a few short hours will come as a relief."
Geraghty said today marked the first step in reconnecting NZ with the world.
"We expect to have more than 300 flights available between New Zealand and Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast for the month of March alone," Geraghty said.
"Once we have a clearer view as to the level of demand, we will adjust the schedule accordingly, but we're confident there will be seats available."
Passengers are required to provide evidence of a negative PCR test 48 hours before departure or a supervised RAT or LAMP test 24 hours before departure under current requirements.
Auckland Airport general manager operations Anna Cassels-Brown said today will no doubt be a day full of emotion and relief for the hundreds of passengers and those waiting to see them.
"It's an important first step, and one that is really welcomed by Auckland Airport and Kiwis wanting to reunite with their families between Australia and New Zealand," Cassels-Brown said.
Auckland Airport expects to welcome around 6700 international arrivals throughout next week.
Compared to the 2900 who arrived from Australia in December 2021, this is a marked increase but still 10 per cent of pre-Covid trans-Tasman travel numbers.
Arrivals will receive a "Welcome Home Pack" that contains rapid antigen tests.
The arrivals come as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday announced changes to self-isolation requirements for returning Kiwis.
Speaking at a post-Cabinet media conference, Ardern said there will be no more self-isolation for fully-vaccinated travellers returning to New Zealand from March 3.
All unvaccinated travellers will still need to complete a period in MIQ.
Ardern said from 11.59pm, Wednesday, March 2, travellers will no longer need to self-isolate.
"Cabinet has agreed to lift all self-isolation requirements for vaccinated travellers entering New Zealand," Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in a statement.
"That means that all Kiwis coming home and tourists entering the country will be able to step off the plane and immediately connect with family and friends and enjoy all New Zealand has to offer."
The Government has also confirmed it will bring forward step 2 of the border reopening, so that New Zealanders from the rest of the world can return from midnight this Friday, March 4.
These travellers could previously only arrive, with self-isolation, from 11.59pm on Sunday, March 13.
Cabinet will review the timings of the remaining steps in the coming weeks. This includes temporary work and student visa holders currently outside New Zealand.