Emotional reopening to Cook Islands bubble

By Lydia Lewis for RNZ

Some families are reuniting, some are celebrating and others are making fresh starts as the Cook Islands travel bubble reopens with New Zealand.

The Cook Islands reopened its borders to fully vaccinated New Zealanders this morning.

Teremoana Peters farewelled her brother Junior and his wife, who are going back to Aitutaki as he has just been appointed the principal for Araura Primary School.

"So they're moving back for good, they've packed up. Bubba, their grand-nephew, is very close with them and he is always saying he is going back with them."

She said their bubba turns three in April and is not going with his uncle who he loves.

More than 300 people took off on Friday (NZT) from Auckland international Airport after the border was closed for five months.

Rosalyn Meehan was on flight on day one with her partner who has Cook Islands roots.

While holiday makers beamed with excitement the couple were a little nervous ahead of the big move.

They have sold their family home in New Zealand and have taken the plunge to build a home on family land which they say they are "really excited about".

"We sold up and decided to move to the Cook Islands," said Meehan.

She says she will relax more once she has actually touched down.

"We were there in June last year and a couple of planes were almost about to land and they had to abort that and head back to New Zealand because of the winds, and I heard there is a cyclone heading towards New Zealand so we are kinda just hoping that we get there."

Also on the flight was Terry Ioapa. He is heading on holiday, but has left the grandchild at home.

"Been planning this for two years, working hard so now it's open, [we are] on our way to Rarotonga to relax, no grandson or kids. We will be living it up under the tropicano," said Ioapa.

Muri Beach Cottages owner Gwen Welland is heading back to Rarotonga. She said it has been a rough few months for her business with no tourists.

She said her first guests were on the same flight and she welcomes the other tourists onboard with open arms.

"Just enjoy and get around to different places, take your tourist dollar and send it, I think it will be really great to open again," Welland said.

Martha Teleiai is celebrating her 21st with her whole whanau, all eight of her loved ones have managed to secure a seat for a fun trip after a tough year.

She is a student at Otago University and said dealing with Covid-19 while trying to study has been a "nightmare".

She said this holiday is all about "relaxing, having fun, doing everything, go snorkeling, have a good time".

It was a lot of "admin" to prepare for the flight, she said.

All passengers must be fully vaccinated and return a negative test prior to leaving the country.

What you need to know if you are heading to the Cook Islands:

  • You must be fully vaccinated.
  • Only people aged 12-years and older can travel.
  • Get a negative pre-departure Covid-19 test result no more than 48 hours before you depart.
  • You are encouraged to download and use the CookSafe app and contact-tracing tools.
  • Asked by tourism operators to take your own snorkel.

* Read more of the advice here.

Cook Island health officials are poised to receive their first batch of New Zealand tourists. New Covid health measures have been implemented this week to mitigate any risk of an outbreak.

They include mandatory mask wearing on public transport and rapid antigen testing for anyone traveling to Rarotonga and Pa Enua; the outer islands.

Senior Health Inspector Oirua Tini spoke to RNZ Pacific as he was boarding the Air New Zealand flight 946. He is returning home after a holiday in New Zealand.

Tini said he was confident in the government's precautions.

"Rarotonga is prepared for tourists."

Prime Minister Mark Brown has released the updated health advice in a statement, saying: "We are ready, we are prepared and we are protected. Now it is time."

Air New Zealand Chief Operational Integrity and Safety Officer David Morgan said the airline had seen strong bookings during January.

"We're really excited to help Kiwis start 2022 off with some relaxing island time, with strong demand for these flights in January and some seat availability in late January and February for travelers looking for an island escape".