The first tourists will fly from New Zealand to Rarotonga on Friday morning as quarantine-free travel (QFT) between the countries resumes.
More than 200 passengers have been booked for Air New Zealand’s NZ946 flight at 8.45am from Auckland, five months after the trip was canceled due to the Delta outbreak in August.
Before that, the travel bubble of the Cook Islands and New Zealand had been in existence for five months, after a 15-month border closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Priscotts, among the 289 passengers on the flight, were excited about their first trip to the Cook Islands and their first family vacation, “in a long time”.
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Essential workers Stacey and Andrew took their three children – Makaela, 16, Morrigan, 19, and Oliver, 13 – with another family friend, Josh Wait, 21, for a five-day vacation at Muri, in Rarotonga.
“We’ve had to cancel a few vacations due to border closures, but when this opportunity presented itself, we thought, ‘Why not?’” said Stacey.
The journey was a solemn one for Aere Nicholas and her family. She lost her brother last week and she went home to mourn.
“They buried him yesterday, so it would be good to see the whānau as we haven’t seen them since 2019,” Nicholas said.
Oirua Tini returned home after visiting relatives in New Zealand.
He had “a very important box filled with KFC” to take back with him.
“We asked what they wanted and they said, ‘KFC.’ So I’m taking KFC back,” Tini said.
He said locals were excited about the return of tourists, but asked for respect and common sense while on the island.
“We don’t want the virus to get in. We are ready, but making sure you follow the rules is very important.”
Graeme West, General Manager Australasia for Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, said the first flight of quarantine-free travel from New Zealand to the Cook Islands is important for the country, helping to rebuild lives after “a terrible 2020 and 2021” for tourism. sector.
“It’s a huge relief everywhere and people are excited to welcome Kiwis back to our beautiful islands,” West said.
“We are ready to go and show you everything we are known for – our warm tropical weather, breathtaking natural beauty, friendliness, hospitality and delicious food.”
Tourism is the main industry of the Cook Islands economy, accounting for 70 percent of GDP.
With borders open only to people traveling from New Zealand, it offers the rare opportunity for Kiwis to have the island all to themselves, with West calling it an incredibly special time to visit Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
“Kiwis are always very warmly welcomed in the Cook Islands and tourism providers will do everything they can to ensure people have a fantastic holiday. We are waiting with open arms to greet the guests,” he said.
Resort operators in the Cook Islands are excited about welcoming tourists as businesses in the tourist-dependent country have suffered financially as a result of closures.
An Air New Zealand spokesperson said the airline was delighted to resume the travel bubble.
“Many Kiwis are eager to go to Rarotonga, and we are seeing a high demand for our quarantine-free Cook Islands flights and currently have one shift per day scheduled,” she said.
“As there will be some service availability from the end of January, we do not plan to schedule additional services at this time.
“As we did when QFT opened with the Cook Islands in May 2021, we will continue to monitor demand and adjust the schedule where possible.”
She said only fully vaccinated people could travel to the Cooks, and from February 1, the same would be a requirement for all Air New Zealand international flights.
The general manager of the Rarotongan Beach Resort and Lagoonarium, Tata Crocombe, said businesses on the island were delighted to welcome people back, but there were fears the virus would enter the country, especially with the threat of the Omicron variant.
But he admitted “we can’t stay closed forever”.
All visitors aged 12 and over must present vaccination certificates upon entry into the country, and children aged 5-11 may enter the country once both New Zealand and Cook Island children have been vaccinated.
A negative Covid test is also required, no more than 48 hours before departure from Auckland.