Well it’s official folks, after months of speculation, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has finally announced the details of the two-way travel bubble that will allow people to travel directly between Australia and New Zealand without the need for quarantine at either end. This is great news for anyone hoping to see family and friends on either end of the Tasman Sea, but it also means that for the first time since March 2020, it looks like international leisure travel and tourism will finally be an option for Australians and New Zealanders. So read on and find out all the details of this exciting development toward a new normal in global travel.
Australia and New Zealand both shut their international border in March 2020 following the declaration of a global pandemic. Australia even went one step further, banning Australian citizens from leaving the country unless they had an essential reason to do so. Rumours of a travel bubble go back all the way to April 2020, when it appeared that both Australia and New Zealand were starting to deal relatively well with the pandemic outbreak. There have been many false starts, and Australia’s Canberra Airport even advertised for expressions of interest for a travel bubble with a June 2020 start! Of course, this wasn’t to be, and while August 2020 was strongly rumoured as a start date, the outbreak of the second wave in Melbourne in June 2020 put any plans for a travel bubble on pause for the foreseeable future.
In October 2020, Australia announced the Safe Travel Zone – a one way bubble allowing New Zealanders to travel to certain states and territories in Australia without the need for an exemption or quarantine as long as they had not been outside of New Zealand for 14 days. However, anyone travelling to New Zealand, even New Zealanders returning home, remained subject to managed isolation (or hotel quarantine) for 14 days, often at their own expense. This meant that in practice, only longer-term travellers or essential travel would be undertaken, and flights between Australia and New Zealand remained scarce.
In March 2021, travel from New Zealand became completely unrestricted by the Australian Government, and there are no longer any bans on Australians leaving the country if they are travelling to New Zealand, so the ball was in New Zealand’s court to make this travel bubble a reality. New Zealand continues to require managed isolation for 14 days, however they indicated that they would be ready to make changes to this soon, and today they finally announced the details of the long-awaited travel bubble.
The bubble – who, where and when?
As Prime Minister Ardern announced, the quarantine exemption will commence on 19 April 2021. Providing no further outbreaks occur on either side in the meantime, New Zealand will allow quarantine-free travel from all of Australia, as long as you haven’t been outside of Australia and New Zealand in the previous 14 days. As an added bonus given the sluggish pace of the vaccine roll out so far, no vaccinations will be required for travel between Australia and New Zealand. For now, New Zealand has not specifically indicated that there will be any special requirements for arrivals from Queensland, which recently experienced a small outbreak, however they may announce further requirements for such arrivals.
How does it work?
Because Australia already allows travel to New Zealand without an exemption to leave the country, and because travellers from New Zealand can travel to Australia without needing to go through quarantine. Combining these policies on either side, this means that from 19 April 2021, there will be an effective two-way travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand, finally making tourism and other short-term travel viable between the two countries.
In order to be eligible for quarantine-free entry, travellers from Australia must travel on “Green Zone Flights”. Such flights can only carry people who have been within the Green Zone (Australia and New Zealand) within the last 14 days, and crew cannot have serviced any flights to non-Green Zone destinations. Travellers will also be required to wear a mask and download the New Zealand tracing app, and will be directed to segregated Green Zone areas within the airport on arrival in New Zealand. While random temperature checks will be undertaken, there will be no PCR testing required.
In response to this announcement (and in some cases, in anticipation of it), Qantas and Air New Zealand have substantially increased their flights from the one-way bubble era schedule of roughly twice per week between major east coast cities and Auckland. Instead, from 19 April 2021, the two national carriers will scale up to be running at least 3 flights a day between major cities in both countries, with full details still to come. This in turn means there will be lots of availability for flights that may well exceed demand initially, and crucially, we expect to see a large number of reward seats available with Qantas for keen point collectors!
One question that hasn’t yet been addressed that may be of interest to those looking for a pacific island escape, however, is whether Australians will be able to travel all the way to the Cook Islands. At the moment, there is free travel between New Zealand and the Cook Islands, a self-governing country in free association with New Zealand. Whether the Cook Islands will accept Australians, and whether Australia will accept travellers from the Cook Islands without quarantine, remains to be free, however there is strong potential for a three-way travel bubble going forward, opening up an excellent opportunity for a tropical island escape. We’ll keep you posted on where this goes!
What are the risks?
On the face of it, the announcement involves a full opening of the border between New Zealand and Australia. However, risks remain for travellers keen to make the trip, as we have seen within Australia from time to time in recent months. For example, travellers encouraged by the opening of Western Australian borders were heartbroken over the Christmas period when an outbreak emerged in New South Wales, leading Western Australia to retroactively quarantine travellers from New South Wales, even if they had already been in the community in Western Australia for several days. Furthermore, there have been several short-term suspensions of the one-way Safe Travel Zone when small outbreaks emerged in New Zealand or certain Australian states.
New Zealand has advised that they will operate on the basis of “Flyer Beware”, and may shut down or impose conditions on travel on short notice. New Zealand has prepared a framework which will operate on a state by state basis, allowing for restrictions, conditions or even mandatory hotel quarantine on return depending on the severity of any outbreak.
This kind of uncertainty and volatility will undoubtedly continue, and we hope to see continued support from airlines and other travel operators such as hotels and car hire companies to ensure flexibility for cancelled plans. For now, it is quite likely that residents on both sides of the Tasman Sea will be quite risk adverse and we might not see a flood of leisure travellers crossing the ditch any time soon. If you’re willing to take the risk, however, this could be an excellent opportunity to be a pioneer of international travel between Australia and New Zealand in the new normal world.
It’s been a long and painful time without international travel, and enthusiasts like ourselves are super excited to be getting back on the road again (or plane, as it were). While New Zealand is a first option, it may not be the only one available in 2021. A number of other countries with low rates of infection are being actively considered to expand the Australia-New Zealand travel bubble. Potential further destinations for expansion include Fiji and other Pacific Island destinations, as well as Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea and we look forward to seeing these ideas develop further in coming months.
Thanks for reading to the end. Be sure to comment down below – will you be taking advantage of the Australia-New Zealand travel bubble? And where will you go?