A one-way travel bubble between the Cook Islands and New Zealand began on Thursday. On Auckland-bound flights, Cook Islanders will now be able to skip quarantine requirements and head straight out to lunch in Auckland.
Air New Zealand keeps a small but vital air link open
Air New Zealand links the Cook Islands to its Auckland hub. While the Cook Islands administers its own internal affairs, the country is technically part of New Zealand. New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says the Cook Islands is self-governing in ‘free association’ with New Zealand. Cook Islanders are free to live and work in New Zealand, and many do. While the Cook Islands has a population of less than 20,000, approximately 60,000 Cook Islanders live in New Zealand.
As the sole airline linking the Cook Islands to the wider world, that Air New Zealand link is vital. But for ten months, travelers in both directions have had to quarantine. That’s had a big impact on passenger numbers on the sector.
“Following confirmation of the Cook Islands’ COVID free status and the implementation of strict health and border protocols, we are now in the position to resume quarantine-free travel for passengers from the Cook Islands into New Zealand,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, last week.
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Two Air New Zealand flights a weekly soon to go daily
Air New Zealand is presently running two Auckland – Rarotonga – Auckland flights a week. Air New Zealand flight NZ940 makes the four-hour trek north to the Cook Islands on Wednesdays and Saturdays using one of its 214 passenger Airbus A321neo planes.
The return flight, NZ941, leaves Rarotonga on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Because Rarotonga is on the other side of the international dateline, the 07:30 departures from Rarotonga land in Auckland at 10:50 the following day – even though it is only a four-hour flight.
At the end of March, Air New Zealand will boost their Cook Islands flights and start flying in daily. By then, a two-way travel bubble is scheduled to be in place. That will allow New Zealanders to flee north to escape New Zealand’s chilly winter, undoubtedly providing a handy piece of business for Air New Zealand. In the meantime, the travel bubble is one-way – heading into Auckland.
A welcome boost at Auckland Airport
Yesterday’s first quarantine-free flight was a small start but a welcome one at Auckland Airport. Auckland Airport’s Scott Tasker said;
“The touch-down of the first quarantine-free flight from the Cook Islands today will be a special moment for Cook Islanders in both countries who are now able to reconnect more easily.
“Air travel is important for trade, business, or just heading off on an exciting adventure – and also for connecting friends and whanau for life’s precious moments is what really makes it special.”
Auckland Airport has separated its international terminal into two zones. One zone is for quarantine free passengers. The other is for those who still need to quarantine. Right now, the latter zone is seeing the most foot traffic. But Auckland Airport hopes this will change soon. More travel bubbles are on the horizon, including with various South Pacific nations and Australia.
“We are a long way from the 15,000 people that would have walked through our international arrivals doors daily this time last year,” said Mr Tasker.
“Previously, we had around 1.4 million people travel to and from the Pacific Islands through Auckland Airport each year on eight different airlines. We expect it will take some time to get those air connections re-established.”