Kia ora, New Zealand! After more than a year of international border closures, Australians and New Zealanders will soon finally be able to travel freely between the two countries with the announcement of a two-way trans-Tasman bubble.
From 11.59pm (NZ time) on Sunday, 18 April 2021, New Zealand will remove entry restrictions and quarantine requirements for travellers who have only been in Australia during the prior 14 days. This is great news for Australians and New Zealanders looking to reunite with loved ones across the “ditch”, or simply desperate for an overseas holiday!
In October 2020, the Australian government removed its hotel quarantine requirement for travellers arriving from New Zealand on special quarantine-free flights. But the New Zealand government, which is openly pursuing a COVID-19 elimination strategy and is therefore taking a very cautious approach to international arrivals, had not yet reciprocated until now.
A few weeks ago, the Australian government had already quietly removed the requirement for Australian citizens to apply for an exemption to travel to New Zealand. The Australian government has now also downgraded its travel advice for New Zealand to Level 2, with the Smartraveller website advising Australians simply to “exercise a high degree of caution” when travelling to New Zealand due to the ongoing risk of COVID-19 outbreaks. The official advice for all other countries remains at Level 4, or “do not travel”.
How will the two-way trans-Tasman bubble work?
Quarantine-free “green zone flights” across the Tasman Sea will be available only to travellers who have not been overseas or in a COVID-19 hotspot during the past 14 days. Crew will also only be allowed to operate these flights if they haven’t been in any hotspots or other countries in the past fortnight, and masks will be mandatory on board trans-Tasman flights.
However, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has warned that travelling across the Tasman is not yet risk-free. If there is a future COVID-19 outbreak in Australia or New Zealand, either government may reimpose travel restrictions.
“Those undertaking travel on either side of the ditch will do so under the guidance of flyer beware. People will need to plan for the possibility of travel being disrupted if there is an outbreak,” Ms Ardern said.
In the event of an outbreak, travellers from an affected state in Australia may be required to do one of four things after arriving in New Zealand:
- Monitor for COVID-19 symptoms
- Get a COVID-19 test
- Self-isolate on arrival
- Go into managed isolation, New Zealand’s version of hotel quarantine, for 14 days (but only in extreme situations, and if this requirement comes in after a flight has already departed, travellers will not be charged for this)
The New Zealand government may also decide to pause or suspend the travel bubble if there is a concerning new COVID-19 outbreak in Australia, particularly if there is community transmission with an unknown source. The NZ government says it will not provide assistance to travellers caught out by this.
Australian states also reserve the right to do the same thing in the event of other COVID-19 outbreak in New Zealand. Since the one-way bubble launched in October 2020, Australia has already paused its quarantine-free travel arrangement for people coming from New Zealand a few times, for short periods, when new COVID-19 cases have emerged in Auckland.
Which airlines are flying between Australia and New Zealand?
From 19 April, Qantas, Air New Zealand and Jetstar will be the only airlines offering quarantine-free flights between Australia and New Zealand.
Qantas will resume flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to New Zealand destinations including Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown. Most flights will be on Boeing 737-800s, except for Sydney-Auckland and Melbourne-Auckland services which will use Airbus A330s with 28 lie-flat Business class seats in the front.
Qantas is also launching new Gold Coast-Auckland and Cairns-Auckland routes.
Air New Zealand will resume flights to eight Australian cities from 19 April, and will soon also launch new twice-weekly direct services between Auckland and Hobart. The Hobart-Auckland flights aren’t on sale yet, but all others are.
Jetstar will just operate from Sydney, Melbourne and Gold Coast to Auckland for now, using Airbus A320s.
Virgin Australia had previously said it would resume trans-Tasman flights once a two-way bubble opened. But Virgin now says it won’t resume flights to New Zealand until 31 October 2021, except for limited Queenstown services from September.
“While the airline remains committed to Trans-Tasman flying when the market fully recovers, we are mindful of evolving border requirements which add complexity to our business as we push ahead with plans to grow our core domestic Australia operations,” a Virgin Australia spokesperson said.
Emirates, Singapore Airlines, LATAM Airlines and China Airlines are not currently operating their usual fifth-freedom routes across the Tasman, and Qatar Airways is not allowed to sell tickets between Brisbane and Auckland on its Doha-Brisbane-Auckland tag flights.
With reduced competition, airfares to New Zealand are somewhat higher at the moment than they were before COVID-19. But Qantas has made all seats on its trans-Tasman flights between 19-21 April 2021 available to book as Classic Flight Rewards using Qantas points as part of its latest “Points Planes” initiative. And Jetstar has reasonably affordable fares starting from $376 return (excluding all extras) on the Melbourne-Auckland route.
Air New Zealand has already announced that it will open its Australian airport lounges from 19 April. It’s not yet clear whether Qantas will do the same with its international lounges.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Two-way Trans-Tasman Bubble starting 19 April 2021