COVID-19 and trans-Tasman bubble: Case-free Victorians savour Queenstown holidays as other states lock down

It may not be quite the trip of a lifetime but it's certainly the trip of a lockdown, or make that a series of them, for Melburnians Azure-Dea Hammond, partner Evan Hammond, and their young children Nathan, Rachael and Ashton.

From the snowy vantage point of Queenstown, New Zealand's immensely popular winter playground, the Hammonds have watched as the drawbridges of a so-called fortress Australia across the Tasman, state by state, have been grimly raised.

But, in a wildly welcome change, Victoria has, for once, been the odd state out with the trans-Tasman travel bubble set to resume  with that state at 11.59 pm (New Zealand time) on Sunday.

Quarantine-free travel from NSW, the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia is paused until at least 11:59pm (NZT) on Tuesday July 6 and likely to be extended for a case-load heavy NSW.

"I had a lot of anxiety that I wouldn't actually get here as I've had so many things cancelled on me in the last 12 to 18 months," says Mrs Hammond, 36, who arrived in New Zealand just before the bubble pause. "It was very hard to get excited in advance of coming because I didn't know if I would even be allowed in the day before.

"Then to have the trans-Tasman bubble close to the other states just after we got into Queenstown made us feel lucky to have made it in. It also reflected that my anxiety on whether or not I'd even be able to get here was right."

Of course, it wouldn't be the pandemic were it not for a complication. Mrs Hammond's brother, Jared Morris, 40, who not long ago moved from Melbourne to Brisbane, with wife Rebecca McTernan and young sons Henry and Jack, are holidaying with the rest of the extended family in Queenstown.

He's keeping a keen eye on the dramatically reduced flight schedules of the main carriers Qantas and Air New Zealand. However, with the Brisbane lockdown already having been extended for 24 hours, as of Friday, the family won't be racing back, even though he has a COVID-19 vaccine booking next week that he doesn't want to miss.

The two families, along with Heather Morris, mother to Jared and Azure-Dea, have been staying at The Rees, a luxury hotel and apartment complex. Mark Rose, chief executive of The Rees, has been fielding a large number of cancellations, particularly from NSW and Queensland, the establishment's two biggest markets.

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Mr Rose estimates that about 65 per cent of guests from Australia have opted for refunds, though bookings are "holding well" from mid-August until the end of September for the remainder of the lucrative winter season.

"People are wary but this winter, compared to 2020, when there were no visitors from Australia, will definitely be a step-up." he says. "We do have guests waiting for flights home, but with a big dump of snow earlier this week, they don't seem to be in any rush."

Mrs Hammond says on her second day in Queenstown she too was experiencing "strong feelings of not wanting to leave.

"It's the first time I've felt peace and calmness in the last 18 months and been able to experience a sense of COVID-free drama where it's not every day wondering what's going to be cancelled or what restrictions will be imposed."

Future holidays across the ditch are set to be more complicated, particularly for families. The New Zealand government has confirmed that, due to the more contagious Delta strain of COVID-19, all future Australian visitors, including children over four years of age, will be required to be tested 72 hours before departure and present a negative result in order to enter the country.

But Andrew Waddel, general manager for Australia for Tourism New Zealand, encourages Australians to not lose faith in the trans-Tasman bubble, which represents "a big step for both countries". They should be confident knowing that tourism operators will ensure flexible bookings and cancellations are available due to any temporary pauses.

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