Kia orana! One of the safest places in the world has finally opened up to New Zealanders.
The Cook Islands are beautiful – lush tropical mountainous islands are fringed with stunning white sandy beaches and blue lagoons.
It’s always been a popular tourism destination for visitors, but Kiwis get to enjoy it first, before the borders open for the rest of the world.
But as the past year has taught us, the new norm of life, travel and tourism now comes with great responsibility.
Here’s what it’s like to travel to the Cook Islands after a pandemic.
Air New Zealand is the only airline operating to the Cook Islands. It has two flights, on Monday and Friday, and will gradually increase this as demand grows.
Pack summer clothes – I don’t have to tell you that. The weather is absolutely beautiful and warm, even during their winter which beats Auckland’s summer, any day.
Travellers must fill out a mandatory Cook Islands declaration form 24 hours ahead of departure. It asks for basic traveller details, including where you are staying, your Covid-19 vaccination information for those who have had the jab, and your history of the virus.
Face masks must be worn on the plane and on arrival. You can’t take off your mask until you’ve left Rarotonga Airport.
You will be greeted by the famous Cook Islands mamas or serenaded by Papa Jake as you wait for your luggage.
Be mindful though, physical distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitising at the airport are important. The Cook Islands is one of only a few countries in the world that has remained Covid-free, and its people would like to keep it that way.
Pacific Resort Rarotonga is a four-star resort, located on the sands of Muri Beach. It has 64 studio rooms, suites, and two- and three-bedroom villas.
It is one of six chains of accommodation which includes the Pacific Resort Aitutaki – the only five-star resort on the island.
Its Rarotonga resort is absolutely stunning and visitors get to wake up to sound of the waves crashing on the lagoon.
You can’t fault the service – you’ll hear the staff with their bright, cheery and loud “kia orana” before you spot them. The same can be said for the rest of the island – its residents are some of the friendliest people you’ll meet.https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.462.0_en.html#goog_777399439PauseUnmuteCurrent Time 0:14/Duration 1:31Loaded: 65.03% FullscreenRYAN ANDERSON/STUFFJethro Slimo and Yvette Henderson were the first international couple to get married in the Cook Islands in over a year.
If you’re lucky, you will get to witness (from afar, of course) a wedding on Muri Beach. The resort has its own wedding coordinator, and a beautiful area by the beach is where vows are exchanged.
There are a lot of activities to sign up for, including options for families, individuals, and couples. Parents who want a day to themselves can take advantage of the kids’ clubs at the island’s resorts.
If you can, fly out to Aitutaki for a day trip or stay a few nights at one of its exclusive resorts.
It will be the highlight of your visit, trust me.
The popular destination, which boasts turquoise waters and picture-perfect islets, is the perfect place to relax. It’s a piece of paradise where time stands still.
There are a lot of tour options, including the Aitutaki Day Tour. There are transfers from Aitutaki Airport and a tour around the island, before visitors get on the 21m Vaka Titi-Ai-Tonga.
It’s a wonderfully relaxing experience and the highlight of the tour is snorkelling with an array of colourful tropical fish, including giant trevally.
The tour also includes a visit to the renowned One Foot Island. Don’t forget to take your passport so you can get it stamped while there.
Stop over at Graeme Jeffries’ Stonefish Surf Shop for some shopping, and grab coffee or a quick bite at Karin Wilson’s Avatea cafe
The Turtle Sea Scooter Safari with Ariki Adventures on Rarotonga is also a must-do.
The sea scooters are surprisingly weightless and make snorkelling so much more thrilling.
The safari takes an hour and a half, and there are experienced and skilled staff to look after you in the water, even if you’re a nervous swimmer.
Now. There’s only a few hundred tourists on the island before travel picks up in June-July, so visitors who come in the first few months get to enjoy the Cook Islands hospitality all to themselves.
You get all the attention from hotel staff, no traffic, and no queues or waiting lists for activity bookings –all before the masses arrive.
The Cook Islands remain one of only 14 countries in the world, and nine in the Pacific, to remain Covid-free.
There have been no visitors to its shores for more than 14 months and while the residents appreciate the tourism boost to their economy, there’s a few things to remember when you visit.
In the first few weeks of the travel bubble, some tours and activities may not be fully operational just yet.
Tourism operators have had only two weeks to prepare for the opening of the travel bubble, so they’ve been busy getting ready, trying to find their footing again.
The island nation is dependent on tourism and while the residents are excited to see visitors again, a few have reservations about the bubble – mainly because of concerns about the virus getting into the country.
Take hand sanitiser on your trip, make use of the sanitiser available at shops and hotels and respect their hospitality.
It really is one of the most beautiful places in the world and visitors can be sure to have the time of their lives.
The writer travelled as a guest of Cook Islands Tourism.