Inbound travel remains suspended: The approach to Rarotonga Airport in the Cook Islands. Photo / Getty Images
A small number of tourists remain in the Cook Islands, long after their trips were due to come to an end.
Its government extended Alert Level two on August 30 but eased restrictions to allow gatherings of more than 100 and travel to the Pa Enua, meaning resorts and tourism operations can continue as usual however gatherings with more than 25 people must be registered with the Ministry of Health and contact tracing is compulsory.
Air New Zealand says there are around 350 tourists on the island, some of whom have chosen to extend their stay while New Zealand’s lockdown continues. A Cook Islands Ministry of Health spokesperson says the number of kiwis would be smaller than that – with fewer than 200.
A spokesperson for the Cook Islands government said over 3150 passengers had left the country since 16 August and that New Zealanders choosing to remain should continue to enjoy their time in the islands, “be safe and be sure to use CookSafe tag-in wherever you go.”
Restrictions on distancing and gatherings remain in place.
Customs data shows 385 Australians travelled to New Zealand and then on to the Cook Islands in July and August. There are no flights operating between Australia and Rarotonga since March 2020, so any remaining Australians on the island would have to return via New Zealand.
Australians were able to visit the Cook Islands when the Trans-Tasman travel bubble was in effect but had to go via New Zealand and spend 14 days there before their flights.
Australia’s travel ban continues to require travellers to apply for “an exemption to leave Australia to a destination other than New Zealand.” Although these are not required to leave transit New Zealand, returning Australians risk fines of a minimum $6550.
Air New Zealand’s operating flights out of Rarotonga and has so far brought 3000 kiwis home, with one flight scheduled this week on Thursday.
“Between now and 14 September, we plan to operate two flights to accommodate those wishing to return home, while also supporting additional cargo demand.”
Meanwhile, Cook Islanders stranded in New Zealand will not be able to return home until Auckland is at Alert Level 2, with all international arrivals to the island suspended.
The Air New Zealand website shows return flights between New Zealand and Rarotonga are available daily from next week, but passengers must check they’re eligible to travel without quarantine before they book.
A spokesperson for the airline said that their schedule will be altered should the suspension be extended.
The Cook Islands Alert Level 2 restrictions are in place until 11.59pm on Monday 13 September.
Reporting by Newstalk ZB