18 May 2021

Covid-19 - Excitement builds as Cook Islands travel bubble begins

5:02 pm on 18 May 2021

After more than a year, New Zealanders are finally able to travel to the Cook Islands without having to quarantine.

The first flight to Rarotonga took off from Auckland Airport with 297 passengers just before 9am this morning and successfully landed in Rarotonga about 2.30pm (NZ time).

The airport was packed with people waiting for loved ones and friends. The first batch of vaccines was also on the flight to be rolled out to the country.

Prime Minister Mark Brown, who is on the first bubble flight to New Zealand for meetings, said he was confident the Cook Islands was ready for the bubble, and he was happy the first step had been taken.

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Brown said the vaccine rollout would happen quickly, starting with the Health Minister today.

There will be daily flights between the two countries and Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty this morning told First Up the crew were very excited about today's flight.

She said demand for Cook Islands flights were back to pre-Covid levels.

"Today's flight is a full flight, which is fantastic news. The week the bubble was announced was actually a record week for us."

"People are looking to get some sunshine," she says.

The border closure had hurt the vital tourism sector for the island nation, which relies on mainly on visitors from New Zealand.

Ashley Steele, who runs a foodtruck in Rarotonga, said the arrival of tourists had been widely anticipated.

"You're driving along the streets, and everyone's hedges and lawns and everything are immaculate because everyone's spent some time getting themselves organised. So I think there's just some general excitement to welcome our Kiwi friends back to the islands, finally."

Air New Zealand plans to make two 787 Dreamliner flights a week to start with, and is looking to put on more flights as demand goes up in the school holidays.

Australians heading to the Cook Islands will need to spend at least 14 days in New Zealand first.

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