COVID-19: Government extends travel exemption window for Kiwis stranded in Queenstown

The Government has agreed to extend the length of time people are allowed to travel back to Auckland from Queenstown, as well as via the Cook Strait ferry for an additional 24 hours.

Hundred of Kiwis are stranded around the country desperate to get home amid the COVID-19 alert level 4 lockdown and there have been fears not everyone would be back before essential travel only restrictions kick in. 

Air New Zealand's CEO Greg Foran confirmed on Thursday morning the airline had asked the Government to extend the 48 hour grace period to get everyone needing to return home out of Queenstown.

Foran said there were a "few hundred" people who would be left behind once Thursday's flights had departed.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also appeared to leave the option open to extend the exemption even further.

"We will check in with them because we have heard that there is high demand there," she said.

At the 1pm media briefing, Ardern said Queenstown Airport had a unique set of circumstances that makes it difficult to simply increase the number of flights.

"The issue with Queenstown is because of the particular runway and airport," Ardern said.

"There are certain pilots who have the ability to come in and out of the airport, and that does limit the number of flights that they are able to bring in."

Air NZ will operate seven extra services from Queenstown - Auckland and Queenstown - Wellington to ensure that customers in the resort town can get home safely for the remainder of the lockdown period.

"We estimate there is somewhere around 600 people requiring flights, so we are confident that the additional 700 seats tomorrow will ensure that there are options for those that need it. As always, we will continue to monitor the demand and adjust as needed," Foran said.

Air NZ's Friday Queenstown flight schedule:  

Queenstown - Wellington 

  • NZ604 - 12:20pm departure
  • NZ608 - 4.00pm departure

Queenstown - Auckland

  • NZ6144 - 10:30am departure
  • NZ6146 - 1:05pm departure
  • NZ630 - 1:40pm departure
  • NZ6148 - 3:20pm departure
  • NZ628 - 8:00pm departure

The Interislander is also putting on additional sailings of the Aratere tonight and tomorrow to provide extra capacity following the announcement. The Kaiarahi will stay on its normal schedule, with passenger bookings now open for tomorrow’s sailings.

A spokesperson said the company expects demand for bookings to increase and, because there is limited time for people to get home, it's crucial that only those who have a valid reason for travelling make bookings. 

After Friday for as long as Aotearoa remains at alert level 4, members of the public will not be allowed to travel on the ferries unless they are essential workers or have a valid reason for travel as permitted by the Ministry of Health.