Some waved. Some danced. Some cried.
As they disembarked Air New Zealand flight NZ946 and made their way down onto the tarmac at Rarotonga International Airport, about 130 returning Cook Islands were greeted by the familiar sound of drums from the Koka Lagoon Cruises boys.
Tears of joy and happiness weren’t only shed by those finally returning home, but those waiting for them.
They didn’t have to say a word – their expressions told the stories of hearts full of relief as they welcomed home their kopu tangata.
Cheers, welcoming banners and the tooting of horns, greeted those who have finally returned, having persevered weeks or even months of quarantine.
Scott Jensen, one of the returning passengers, was overcome with emotion at the support from people along the roadside as the bus left the terminal towards the resort, where they will stay for a further two weeks of quarantine.
“It was a bit overwhelming transiting from the plane to the bus. The number of people on the side of the road supporting us on the way to the Edgewater brought tears to my eyes. It was a very special and moving experience.”
Families and friends waited patiently at the airport, including Jayd, Anjanine and Steven Nookura and Rouru Eraio.
“We’ve come to see our mum and dad Mona and Makitau who have been away for a month now,” said Steven.
“Even though we can’t hug them, we wanted to be here, we’re just hoping to see them pass by on the bus, it’s so good they’re home now.”
His sister Anjanine added: “I’m happy, even if we just a glimpse of them now, it’s worth it, we want them to feel we are here.”
Vicky Nia and Terangi Boaza arrived at the airport half an hour before the plane.
“We just wanted to see our family and friends, we are so glad they are home, especially the golden oldies, they have been away for too long. I can imagine how they are feeling now, they will be emotional,” said Boaza.
Mata Iroa said she got the shivers. “I feel so happy our people are here, home on this glorious day.”
The Cook Islands National Youth Council crew stood waving and cheering at the exit of the airport. “We are here in support with our banner ‘we are all in this together’, it’s a good feeling they are here,” said Sieni Tiraa.
Sebon Will made the effort to join the groups, to show aroa (love) for her cousin George Ama, Justine Cook and her son Ryall, and everybody else, to welcome them home.
There were also a number of Cook Islanders at the seawall to applaud and get a glimpse of the plane bringing home their loved ones.
Paul Lynch, who has families stranded in New Zealand and Australia, said it was a joyous occasion.
“My brother-in-law is stranded in Auckland and my sister in Australia but to see other Cook Islanders making it back, I guess it’s a happy day for all of us.”
Airport Authority Board chairman Taoro Brown acknowledged some people have been sad and disappointed at the process they have had to endure to get home.
“But we are protecting one thing, the jewel our country, and we want to keep it Covid-19 free,” he said.
“We’ve been very particular in how we address this, no one has any knowledge or expertise on what to expect from this, this is new to all of us.
“E maru nei te o'one o te ngakau, no to tatou iti tangata tei oki mai i te ipukarea – our hearts are warm for our people who have returned to our paradise.”
> Additional reporting Katrina Tanirau