Auckland’s Sky Tower will light up black, red and golden yellow this evening to mark the final repatriation flight of Germans out of New Zealand.
Lufthansa A380 flight 357 with 500 German nationals on board is scheduled to leave Auckland around 6.30pm, doing a low pass over the harbour past a Sky Tower wearing the colours of the German flag – the final of 26 flights in one week taking almost 10,000 expats home.
German-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce CEO Monique Surges, whose staff assisted the German Embassy with the flights out of Christchurch and Auckland, says around 200,000 German nationals were stranded overseas because of COVID-19, "and by far the largest number were in New Zealand – around 12,000".
Monique says the situation for those Germans left in New Zealand was the most challenging out of those stuck around the globe.
"They were spread throughout the country, often enjoying some very remote experiences. Many would like to have stayed here, but there were issues with travel insurance, loss of seasonal work and income and accommodation, which would have made an extended time here in lockdown very difficult."
Around 100,000 German tourists visit New Zealand annually, staying on average much longer than most visitors and generating the highest dollar spend of any nation, Monique says. "We also see around 3000 German students staying here each year with New Zealand families, along with up to 13,000 young Germans on Working Holiday Visas who may stay up to a year."
She says the concerted airlift was necessary after COVID-19 led to border closures and airlines rapidly cancelling flights and services.
"Qatar Airlines became the only commercial airline option to get home to Germany, increasing to two flights a day out of Auckland."
Negotiations between the German and New Zealand Governments and the two airlines, however, saw 14 Lufthansa and 12 Air New Zealand flights chartered for the stranded expats, taking up to 1200 passengers per day home, with a short refuelling stop in either Vancouver or Bangkok.
Seeing the last of the scheduled passengers off today will be "immensely satisfying – and a huge relief," says Monique. "These people are New Zealand’s unofficial ambassadors back in Germany, generally giving this country a glowing report for its attractions, experiences and people.
"We wanted to make sure they left with a burning desire to come back again some day."