There were scenes of jubilation and celebration at Gold Coast Airport on Wednesday, after the first flight from Aotearoa in more than seven months touched down.
The passengers aboard the Air New Zealand A321 neo received a special Gold Coast welcome back when they entered the terminal, as well as a performance from the Biren Aboriginal Dance Group, entertainment from a singer-guitarist, theme park characters and gift packs of Tim Tams.
The flight arrival coincides with a further easing of restrictions for fully vaccinated Kiwis who no longer need to self-isolate when they return to New Zealand from Australia.
Queensland Airports Limited CEO Chris Mills said demand for the initial Air NZ services had been strong.
"We are extremely pleased to have Air NZ back and the return of this service will be welcomed by the large number of New Zealanders who live on the Gold Coast and northern NSW but want to travel over the 'ditch' regularly to see family and friends," he said.
"There are about 50,000 Kiwis living on the Gold Coast and it has been a challenging two years for loved ones wanting to see each other in both places."
Mills said it was hoped the other connections between the Gold Coast and New Zealand would be re-established soon.
"Pre-COVID-19, we also had flights between the Gold Coast and Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown and we would like to have them back as soon as possible," he said.
"The New Zealand market is one of the strongest for the Gold Coast. Pre-COVID-19, more than 550,000 people travelled between the Gold Coast and New Zealand making it the airport's largest international market.
"It was also the city's second-largest international visitor market source, behind China."
Destination Gold Coast CEO Patricia O'Callaghan said the return of Air NZ was another leap forward for post-pandemic recovery.
"With about one percent of all Kiwis calling the Gold Coast home, we can't wait to reunite families and friends, and importantly welcome back even more holidaymakers from today following Monday's announcement that our Kiwi friends can visit without needing to isolate on their return," she said.
O'Callaghan said a recent market survey revealed three in four Kiwi travellers are considering travelling outside of New Zealand within the next two years. Of those considering international travel, 59 percent are strongly considering visiting Australia, with the Gold Coast in the top three destinations Kiwis plan on visiting.