Cook Islands gain direct Sydney flights as Jetstar, Hawaiian Airlines arrive in Rarotonga - NZ Herald


The Cook Islands are back on the international tourism map, gaining direct links from three countries in as many months.

This winter it has become a lot easier for American and Australian travellers to reach Rarotonga, with Hawaiian Airlines launching Honolulu weekly in May, Air Tahiti Nui returning direct from June, and Jetstar becoming the first Australian to return to the Cooks in 30 years.

But what does this mean for New Zealand travellers?

Since 2020 and the pandemic travel pause, Auckland has been the main route of international air travel for the Cook Islands.

Indeed, when the Lonely Planet declared Rarotonga and the Pa Enua the must-see travel destination for 2022. New Zealand was the only country able to visit via a “tourism bubble”.

Now this bubble has well and truly burst, with international tourists describing Rarotonga “like Hawaii was 50 years ago”. Visiting Californians will proudly proclaim they have come to see Lonely-planet founder Tony Wheeler’s “favourite lagoon” after he named Aitutaki “the world’s most beautiful island”.

It was inevitable that the Cook Islands would return to the tourism spotlight. However, new direct flights may have additional impacts for Rarotonga’s 1500 inhabitants and the 122,000 annual tourists travelling via Auckland.

The return of flights out the Eastern Pacific has been a boon for local business, said Karla Eggelton, CEO of Cook Islands Tourism, providing “additional access to the Cook Islands but signifies another important step towards the recovery of our tourism industry”.

Welcoming flights from Tahiti and Hawaii, with special focus on tourists from the Northern Hemisphere, Eggelton said Europe and the Americas were an important source market for the islands during the low season travel periods.

The airlines returning to Rarotonga.

Although Jetstar says that it will be continuing its three weekly Auckland to Rarotonga flights, chief customer officer Alan McIntyre says the option to avoid a layover in New Zealand will be welcome.

“Now just a five-hour flight from Sydney, our new service will make the Cook Islands the next hot holiday spot for Australians seeking a tropical island escape to relax and unwind, especially during cooler months,” he said.

Initially announced as twice weekly, JQ141 will now be flying three times a week from Sydney.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown thanked the airline for the “services they are providing, giving visitors and Cook Islanders living in Australia easy access to the Cook Islands”.

Prior to the pandemic, around 29,000 Australians visited annually, the Cook Islands’ second largest tourism market.

Another historically-large tourism market for the Cook Islands is the US and Canada, at 11,000 annual visitors but this could grow with direct fares from Honolulu.

Air Tahiti Nui’s Tahiti to Rarotonga is a popular transfer for tourists via the Coral Route, but in May Hawaiian Airlines’ direct service has brought in visibly more US bookings.

“Demand from the US mainland through a Honolulu connection continues to grow as we and the Cook Islands tourism team bring more awareness to our service and the destination,” said a spokesperson for the airline.

It is hoped that the increase in competition and reduction of passengers flying via Auckland might reduce the price of Cook Islands travel.

Jetstar says it will be offering Auckland to Rarotonga fares from $215 one way.

See the full article by NZ Herald HERE...