With Europe summer trips cancelled and no long-haul flights on the agenda for the foreseeable future, many Aussies are banking on the pending trans-Tasman travel bubble.
Both the Ardern and Morrison governments have promised it’s something they’re working on.
The Tourism Restart Taskforce wants trial flights to start in July while New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said September was a more reasonable timeframe.
While it’s hard to book and plan anything until there is an official announcement, we can start dreaming and researching our trips across the ditch.
Although all COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in NZ, experts on the ground in New Zealand warn holidays won’t be exactly the same as pre-pandemic.
Here’s what you need to know:
When will it happen?
If it was up to Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Kiwis and Aussies would already be able to fly across the Tasman Sea.
“The trans-Tasman bubble should have been open, like level one, yesterday,” he told Stuff while citing Australia’s interstate border closures as the reason for the delay. Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia are still banning visitors from other states.
“As soon as they say we are ready to go, we are off,” he said.
The Safe Border Group - made up of experts and representatives from Australia and New Zealand - has delivered a blueprint for the travel bubble to both prime ministers. Prime Minister Ardern recently said travel could resume in September.
Will things be open?
New Zealand has zero live cases of COVID-19 and this week lifted all coronavirus restrictions for the first time in more than three months, while much of the rest of the world is still grappling with the pandemic.
The country’s official tourism board said it expects to see a boost in domestic travel followed by Aussies being allowed to visit.
“We are seeing a steady increase of operators reopening their doors and we expect this to continue into the later half of 2020,” Andrew Waddel, General Manager at Tourism New Zealand – Australia told HuffPost Australia.
“Lots of operators are back online with Wildwire Wanaka offering great deals and offers.”
The government’s Alert Level One means there are no more limits on people in cafes, malls, stadiums, night clubs or public and private gatherings.
Life, for the most part, is back to normal.
What about wineries?
Many wineries, such as the picturesque Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant on Auckland’s famous Waiheke Island, are hosting hourly tastings to cater for post-COVID vino cravings.
“Lots of New Zealand wineries have already opened their cellar doors and restaurants for New Zealanders wanting to explore their own backyard and look forward to welcoming Aussies, Waddel said.
“Additionally the majority of New Zealand’s 32 luxury lodges will be open by October 1st”.
Cheers to that.
Will adventure tourism still be a thing?
New Zealand ski fields are gearing up for the 2020 season, with slopes opening from late June-July, confirmed Waddel.
“The Remarkables and Coronet Peak in Queenstown, and Mt Hutt in Christchurch-Canterbury are scheduled to open for the 2020 winter season,” he said.
“In Wanaka, heli-ski operations are looking to take flight in mid to late-June, Snow Farm’s scheduled opening day is June 19, and both Cardrona and Treble Cone are set to open on the last weekend of June, which is all extremely positive news for Australian visitors.”
Off-the-grid experiences will certainly be open in Auckland, Steve Armitage, General Manager Destination at Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) told HuffPost Australia.
“There’s Great Barrier Island – the world’s first island to receive the dark sky sanctuary status.
“Auckland Museum, Art Gallery and the Zoo are welcoming visitors again. The popular Auckland to Rangitoto Island ferry service resumed in May, which transports you to the heart of the Hauraki Gulf where there is a range of activities to explore.”
Regional flights or just driving?
Long before COVID, Australians were big fans of hitting the road in NZ. We know 70% of Aussies take part in a self-drive holiday when visiting New Zealand.
“The revived appreciation for the outdoors and life’s simple pleasures means a New Zealand road trip is the best way to experience our people and place,” Waddel said.
“My favourite road trip is from Christchurch to Queenstown which travels through Tekapo. Following all that Wanaka and Queenstown has to offer, head up the West Coast of the South Island. It weaves you through from mountain to rainforest and rugged coastline.”
Will there be good deals?
Australians make up almost 40% of international arrivals to New Zealand so there is incentive to lure travellers back over the ditch to get the economy moving once borders open.
There have already been great deals to boost domestic tourism.
“We’ve started to see some fantastic deals,” ATEED’S Armitage said.
“Such as Waiheke Island’s recent campaign called ON THE HOUSE where visitors to the island can rent one of the participating properties over a weekend in June, and homeowners will let them stay ‘on the house.’
“The rental fee will be passed on and converted into ‘Waiheke dollars’, a spending credit for goods and services redeemable across the island.”
What will the flight be like?
“I think everyone needs to realise that it’s going to be very, very different than what they’re used to,” Jeremy Tarr, digital editorial director of Fodor’s Travel told HuffPost.
“It’s going to feel weird, it might feel uncomfortable, and, depending on the person, it might feel really scary.
“Research what your airline has done before you book your flight and especially before you board.”
Qantas, for instance, from June 12 will provide masks and cleaning wipes to ensure safe travel and give passengers peace of mind during the pandemic, but will not leave middle seats empty as it will be impossible to turn a profit.
“Social distancing on an aircraft is impractical,” Qantas boss Alan Joyce said.
He said the airline will simplify catering, step up aircraft cleaning and ask passengers to limit movement around the cabin once seated.
Masks will not be mandatory but Qantas will recommend passengers wear them in the interest of everyone’s peace of mind, in a measure that is unlikely to be needed over the longer term, Qantas Medical Director Ian Hosegood said.
He confirmed data showed the risk of catching coronavirus on a plane is extremely low and there are no documented cases of transmission, including on recent lengthy Qantas repatriation flights from London and Los Angeles that lacked social distancing.
What about neighbouring countries?
South Pacific island nations are campaigning for a South Pacific travel bubble with Australia and New Zealand.
Tourism delegates from New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomons and Tahiti have formed a working group to help the proposed South Pacific travel bubble become a reality.
The group submitted a letter to the offices of both the Australian and New Zealand prime ministers to urge negotiations around potentially opening borders.
“The concept of a South Pacific bubble is of great importance to many people - and not just those desperate to get back to a tropical island, which I think many of us are dreaming of right now,” Caroline Brunel, Account Director at Tahiti Tourisme, Australia and New Zealand told HuffPost Australia.
“Tens of thousands of Australians rely on outbound travel for their jobs, and tourism is the life blood of entire nations in the South Pacific.
“Collectively, the nations of the South Pacific have done an incredible job of flattening their respective COVID curves, if not eradicating the virus all together.”
There have been 88 cases of COVID-19 and zero deaths across the four nations.