NZ expatriates and Cook Islanders eye quarantine free-travel 

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu
NZ expat Deb Te Kani and her whānau.  Photo / File

An NZ expat whānau and local Cooks are gearing up to return to Aotearoa following the removal of mandatory quarantine on arrival, set to start this Thursday.  Deb Te Kani (Ngāpuhi) says she is excited the anticipated decision has finally been announced.

Te Kani says visiting whānau, friends, a few malls and having a feed of McDonald's are the priorities for the whānau when they return home.

“Aww, it’s absolutely great! We’ve been hanging out for that. So I didn’t really want to go home and spend two weeks in isolation.”

The announcement has added more good vibes among locals taking part in the national Beach Games currently underway on the island. 

One local said it is great news for people like her to travel to Auckland and not to go into quarantine.

A local man said, “We should’ve been already doing it but, yeah, I agree with that. It’s a good feeling to have that, being able to go somewhere else.”

Another local said she has to really think twice, “You know, if I’m going there and that, it has to be a really good purpose for me to go to New Zealand, and other than that I’m happy where I am here today in paradise.”

It has been nearly a year since the Te Kani whānau returned to Aotearoa, and the travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic have taken a toll on the whānau.

“Not allowing us to leave when we’ve wanted to leave and having to wait so long to go home, we’ve missed a lot of our friends and whānau have passed away.

“And it’s really hard to be away from home when you actually want to be there and attend, you know, tangi.”

The government and business sector are looking forward to the next phase of a two-way quarantine-free travel bubble with New Zealand and welcoming much needed visitors back to its shores in a few months.

Cook Islands Prime Minister, Mark Brown, said, “10 months without any visitors, without our tourists coming into the country has certainly been challenging, both for the government but also the private businesses that have struggled. 

“And that’s why we’ve extended the support programmes to these companies. The wage subsidy has been extended until April.”

Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce Chair, Tangata Fletcher Melvin, said, “There is no business really for a lot of people, especially the tourism industry, there is zero customers.

“There are some places that have local business but very, very few. The majority of hotels and motels, holiday homes are empty.”

Locals needing non-critical health services, and students wanting to enrol at schools or tertiary institutes, will return to New Zealand. 

In addition, specialist workers, contractors and judiciary officials can now come to Rarotonga for short terms. 

“Almost a year's worth of cases to be heard, we’re hoping now that we can get judges flown into the country to be able to hear a number of these cases,” said Brown. 

Air New Zealand flights from Rarotonga have increased from one to two per week, each Thursday and Sunday to meet demand.