The first plane loads of passengers have checked into the certified CFC hotels on day one of the Fiji travel restart.
Fiji Airways flight 914 from Sydney was the first over the beaches of Nadi, arriving a little after 11:30am this morning. The first green flight as part of the country's 1 December reopening, it was one of three quarantine-free services carrying a little over 400 vaccinated passengers.
These Australian tourists will test the country's new CFC programme, allowing them to go straight from their plane to resorts, hotels and activities - without having to undergo isolation.
"Today, we are proud and – most importantly – prepared to welcome the first tourists to fly to Fiji in almost two years," said Fijian prime minister, Frank Bainimarama.
Nicole Laurie and her family were among the passengers departing Sydney Kings Interntional for Fiji at 6:30am, looking forward to an "afternoon swimming and enjoying Castaway Island."
Travelling with her 4 and 9 year olds, it was their first overseas trip since 2019.
Spending seven nights on Castaway Island before returning to Denarau, she says her family "won't be venturing too far off the beaten track" to make sure they could easily access PCR tests to return to Australia.
"We expected some hiccups along the way being the first tourists to be back after 20 months, but were treated like royalty," she said.
There was even a brass band, chaperoning travellers to their dedicated shuttles. Part of the closed circuit, tourists are kept within the CFC partner resorts for the first three days of arrival.
After this initial period, tourists are free to explore any of the 300 Fijian islands.
"The last 20 months have been a rollercoaster," says Sofitel's director of sales Michael Bell.
Since the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic in 2020 the resort in Denarau went from 550 staff to a crew of just 13. Rattling around the empty hotel was a haunting experience, he says."I felt a bit like the guy from The Shining."
Apart from some conferences and some domestic bookings the year had been eerily quiet, up until now.
It was an emotional day for both Fijian hospitality workers and the arriving Australians, most of whom had not been abroad in over two years. After the six month-reopening plan to get staff vaccinated and compliant with the Fijian hygiene protocol.
A team of 36 have been rostered to oversee sanitisation of the resort, luggage, and gym equipment, to make sure all surfaces and equipment are cleaned between use - "so, we are confident things are in place and Fiji is as safe as it can be."
With 57 rooms having arrived on the first flights and CFC shuttles from Nadi airport, Bell reflects that it has been an emotional day.
"All of the staff are thrilled to be back to work and the team spirit over the last few weeks has been incredible."
With 800 arrivals scheduled for the first 24 hours, it has been a huge restart. The resorts expect to see arrivals from the US, Europe and fourteen other partner countries from which vaccinated tourists have been given a green light for quarantine-free travel.
From this month Fiji has been dropped from New Zealand's 'high risk' list, meaning travellers will no longer have to spend 14 days in a third country before returning to New Zealand.
New Zealanders won't have long to wait to fly quarantine-free to Nadi.
Fiji Airways' first flight is scheduled to depart from Auckland on Saturday, arriving in Fiji on just after 7pm.
However, the MIQ requirements for returning Kiwis mean that the number of leisure travellers is very low.
Air New Zealand said it would rebuild its connections to Fiji in the new year, however it would appear that the airline was waiting for restrictions to ease and home isolation rules to come into place after 14 February.