Rising coronavirus cases has put a much-vaunted trans-Tasman travel bubble on hold as New Zealand turns away from Australia and explores opening its border with the Cook Islands first.
Jacinda Ardern says Australia has slipped down the pecking order since the agreement struck when she attended a national cabinet meeting in May.
The upswing of cases in Victoria, and to a lesser extent in New South Wales, has prompted Ms Ardern to look east to form a bubble with the COVID-free Cook Islands.
However, her deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, still maintains a trans-Tasman bubble could be formed with Tasmania and then with other COVID-free states.
The Cook Islands is a Pacific Island nation of around 15,000 people previously under New Zealand's control and one of three NZ "Realm" countries, along with Tokelau and Niue.
"It's clear to us that opening up with Realm countries, keeping in mind they are New Zealand passport holders, will come before any opening up with Australia," Ms Ardern told Newshub.
Ms Ardern said work on the bubble had progressed to making logistical arrangements at Kiwi airports to allow for the flow of people.
"(Officials are) doing that. They're working with the airlines. That's going to take several weeks. Then we'll get a report back on exact dates when we'll be able to start the rollout of the reopening," she said.
Ms Ardern refused to be drawn on a timetable, declining to say whether it would be possible before Christmas.
Greg Foran, the chief executive of Air New Zealand, predicted there would be no trans-Tasman bubble until Christmas.
He told a parliamentary committee on Thursday that Australia "felt a little bit closer eight weeks ago.
"Now it feels that possibly, that maybe, at best, (the bubble could come at) the end of this year, and probably more likely next year," he said.
Earlier this month, former PM Helen Clark called for the resumption of travel with the tourism-dependent Cooks immediately.
"This could have happened before the school holidays," she told AAP.
"All the issues around the quarantine ... it's made the government very cautious and I understand that. I've been in politics."
Currently, all international arrivals in both New Zealand and Australia must self-isolate for a fortnight to reduce the risk of spreading the virus in the community.
New Zealand officials, from the PM down, won't open the border with places that have community infections, ruling out NSW and Victoria.
Tasmania, with just one active case and a sea border like New Zealand, is of strong interest to Mr Peters, who has arranged phone hook-ups with state premier Peter Gutwein.
Mr Peters urged Mr Gutwein to lobby Australia's prime minister to give the necessary regulatory approval for international flights to Hobart.
"I've always believed that it was possible between ourselves and Tasmania," he said on Thursday.
"So does Premier Gutwein. His job is to persuade Scott Morrison. And from there, we could go to Queensland."
Tasmania's last regularly scheduled international flights occurred in the 1990s and there are doubts over the economic viability of a trans-Tasman service from Hobart.
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