Cook Islands travel bubble to re-open to fully-vaccinated New Zealanders in January

Fully-vaccinated New Zealanders will be able to return to the Cook Islands from January.

The country's preparing for huge demand from cooped up Kiwis, even though Auckland's Delta outbreak is far from under control.

"The minute the announcement came out, the bookings started flowing in, our reservations team have been flown off their feet," says Tata Crocombe, owner of the Rarotongan Beach Resort.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown announced on Friday two-way travel between New Zealand and the Cook Islands will resume on January 14.

No quarantine, no isolation. And once it's open, it'll stay open - no matter what.

"We've protected ourselves as fully as we can. Now it's time to open for business," he says.

The bubble was popped when New Zealand went into level 4 in August. Resort owners like Crocombe have been left with no income.

"We could open tomorrow. Everything's ready to go. We're 100 percent ready to go," he says.

While the Cook Islands are heavily reliant on tourists, the bubble also allows families to reunite, and workers who left for New Zealand to return. But there's a few things they'll all have to do to get ready first.

They'll need to provide a negative test within 72 hours of departure, and be fully vaccinated. It means families may have to leave children at home.

"Only those over 12 years old will qualify to enter the Cook Islands until New Zealand begins its vaccination programme for five years and over," announced Brown.

Once on Rarotonga, passengers will need to take a rapid antigen test in order to travel domestically to Aitutaki.

"We're doing everything we can to make it as safe as possible, but not make it onerous on people. It's still going to be a relatively easy transition," says Graeme West, Australasia general manager of the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation.

The announcement has been made with enough notice so the Cook Islands can increase its already high vaccination rate of 96 percent of its eligible population, and more in New Zealand can get vaccinated too.

"For those Cook Islanders who are unvaccinated and wish to travel, you will be expected to enter MIQ on arrival in the Cook Islands, at your full cost," says Brown.

The New Zealand Prime Minister's office says Jacinda Ardern was informed on Friday of the decision. It was one for the Cook Islands to make, as New Zealand already allows one-way quarantine-free travel from the Cooks.

"This announcement will more fully reconnect our peoples and our economies," she said in a statement.

"The health measures that the Cook Islands are putting in place for travellers, and the high vaccination rates in both New Zealand and the Cook Islands, gives us increased protection for the resumption of quarantine-free travel between our two countries."

The Cook Islands Tourism Corporation is confident the bubble won't risk New Zealand exporting the virus.

"We've got a 96 percent eligible population vaccinated in the Cooks, and only vaccinated people arriving. We're really keeping the chance of things not going well pretty low," says West.

A country that's never had a case, and wants to keep it that way, ready to say Kia Orana once again.