Quarantine-free travel sees Cook Islanders return home

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

Cook Islands residents and work permit holders are taking the opportunity to return to Rarotonga from New Zealand, following the start of quarantine-free travel to Aotearoa, last week. 

For some of those passengers, it’s the first time they’ve been able to return in nearly a year.

New Air New Zealand Rarotonga operations manager and the first local, Addrienne Hosking Tinirau, was elated to welcome her son, whom she hasn’t seen in a year.

“Yeah, very happy to have him home and safe,” Hosking Tinirau said.

Ina Boxer from Ngāi Tahu, Aitutaki, Atiu, and husband Steve from Ngāpuhi say they are also "over-the-moon" to finally touch home soil.

“Aww it feels so good,” Boxer said.

Year of waiting

“It’s been a whole year waiting for this moment to actually come back to the Cook Islands, back to our house, and to be with our mum who is here in an outer island.”

‘This is the longest we’ve ever been away from the Cook Islands so this is an amazing feeling, just feeling the sunshine on us as soon as we walked out of the plane,” said Steve.

“Tasting the air, and the salt in the air is just something we’ve been hanging out for for a long long time.”

Their eldest daughter Dawn is also overjoyed to be reunited with her whānau. She returned to Rarotonga last month.

“My first night I came I did cry,” she said,

“But I’m so happy when they told me last week they booked their flight, I was just so happy for them to come.”

Last year the family had pre-paid four Air New Zealand flights to return to Rarotonga, including to celebrate Ina’s 40th birthday, but quarantine restrictions delayed their decision.

Weight off their shoulders

“Because we work in New Zealand, we can work remotely,” Boxer said. 

“We have spent many months here before but, with the ability to return, it took that weight off our shoulders, that we can actually return and not have to quarantine.”

Local Jenny Henry is overjoyed to have her girlfriend of nearly 20 years home.

“Aww I’m so happy, I’m so so happy,” Henry said.

“We’ve been waiting for this day for ages, so, really stoked to having her (Ina) home.”

In anticipation of the two-way quarantine-free travel bubble between Rarotonga and New Zealand set for March, Air New Zealand is advertising daily flights both ways online, from the March 27 on.

“There’s just so much pressure and tension from New Zealand with work commitments,” Steve Boxer said.

Coming to a Covid-free country is just an amazing feeling. And it’s something a lot of New Zealanders haven’t been able to do for a long, long time. So we’re feeling grateful.”

“Our home, which has sat there for 12 months - that’s our heart," Ina said. "We built it ourselves, and it’s our pride and joy.”

“And seeing my mum, reconnecting with my mum who has been by herself.”

The family plans to travel to Aitutaki to help care for Boxer's elderly mum and do repairs to her home in two weeks.