A two-way travel bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Islands opened on Monday – but the first flight won’t depart until tomorrow due to a 22-hour time difference between the two destinations.
An Air New Zealand 787-9, ZK-NZH msn 37964, will herald the restart of quarantine free travel, taking off from Auckland at 8:55am on 18 May as flight NZ940, before landing at 2:30pm.
Air New Zealand will now operate two to three return flights a week to Rarotonga, before increasing to daily trips from July.
Auckland Airport general manager Scott Tasker said the Cook Islands are the airline’s second biggest Pacific island travel market behind Fiji.
“It will be a great kick-start for the Cook Islands economy, which is very reliant on international visitors with more than 60 per cent of GDP linked to tourism. And it comes in time for the traditional mid-winter peak period for New Zealanders travelling to the islands,” said Tasker.
It comes after a one-way corridor opened in January, which allowed Cook Island residents to fly into New Zealand without quarantine but not the other way around.
However, PM Jacinda Ardern argued that, in the event of an outbreak, she is likely to try and immediately repatriate citizens rather than asking them to stay put, as is the case with Kiwis in Australia.
“As in the case with Australia, the bubble comes with a flyer beware caveat,” she said. “If there is an outbreak in New Zealand, flights are likely to be paused. In addition to that, a plan if there is an outbreak in the Cooks is more explicit.
“So rather than require everyone to shelter in place as we would in Australia, we would be more likely to get our people home. We view this as necessary to reduce pressure on the Cook Islands and minimise further spread of the virus.”
The similar “flyer beware” arrangement with Australia means the country can pause, suspend or continue flights in the event of an outbreak, as has happened twice in WA and once to NSW.
Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran earlier said the Cook Islands hold “a very special place for New Zealanders and Air New Zealand”.
“We know it’s a popular destination because in 2019, of the 446,000 Kiwis who took a trip to the Pacific islands, almost 110,000 headed to Rarotonga,” added Foran.
“We’re certain our Cook Island neighbours will welcome Kiwis with open arms for a much-needed boost for the local economy, and we’re looking forward to reconnecting friends and whānau who haven’t been able to take advantage of the one-way travel arrangement that’s been in place since January.”
Customers will only be able to visit if they have been in New Zealand for the past 14 days.