New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Cook Island Prime Minister Mark Brown recently announced a travel bubble between the two countries, with flights launching January 21, 2021. There is a catch though: it’s only going to be quarantine-free one-way from Rarotonga to Auckland for the time being, while those traveling in the other direction will still be required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
“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,” Arden said in a press statement. “Both countries continue to take a very careful approach to managing our borders and preventing the spread of Covid remains our paramount concern. As such, strict protocols will be in place including pre-departure health requirements and separation from other travelers at Auckland International Airport. New Zealand and the Cook Islands are united in our commitment to protect our communities from Covid-19.”
The goal, if everything goes according to plan, is to eventually begin quarantine-free travel in both directions during the first quarter of 2021. Beginning January 21, 2021, the Rarotonga to Auckland route will be operated twice weekly on Wednesday and Saturday by Air New Zealand.
The press statement outlines certain protocols put in place to help keep residents of both countries safe, including how those traveling from the Cook Islands to New Zealand can expect random temperature checks at Auckland International Airport. To be cleared for travel, passengers must not exhibit any symptoms, must not have come into contact with anyone with Covid-19 in the last 14 days and must not have traveled overseas in the last 14 days. Visitors must practice social distancing, wear a mask and keep your distance from others at the airport who did not arrive with you.
Meanwhile, Auckland International is taking special precautions to make sure those arriving from Rarotonga stick to its Safe Travel Path, with measures in place so no other flights arrive 90 minutes before or after one from the Cook Islands. This in turn ensures all passengers can be processed safely, the international terminal can be cleaned thoroughly and baggage claim carousels are only being used by those traveling quarantine-free. There’s also a special exit area so arrivals won’t me mixed with others who may be sick or heading to government-regulated quarantine facilities.
In addition to this being a great opportunity for some much-needed vacations and reunions with family members after being isolated for nearly a year, Cook Islanders—who are also granted New Zealand citizenship though the two nations are independent countries—often visit the Land of the Long White Cloud for practical matters like medical checks and to stock up on retail, health and other supplies.
Note that Cook Islands citizens and residents returning home will have to show negative results from a Covid-19 test administered within 96 hours of their flight in addition to other pre-exit requirements. According to Radio New Zealand, only certain specialists, contractors and government members of the judiciary are able to fly to Rarotonga quarantine-free on a short-term basis, while other folks—who at this time are limited to Cook Islands citizens and those with active residency or work visas—must self isolate for 14 days.