Direct flights, social media help more discover Cook Islands

More Australian tourists are enjoying holidays in the Cook Islands.

More Australian tourists are enjoying holidays in the Cook Islands. Photo: Getty

A Polynesian hotspot just a short flight from Australia is being discovered by more tourists with signs it won’t remain under the radar for long.

Boosted by social media hype and the addition of more direct flights, the Cook Islands is becoming a hot destination for Australian holiday-makers.

Online travel agency Webjet said bookings for the Pacific Island paradise had jumped 48 per cent in the past four months alone.

But it’s not just bookings that suggest the Cook Islands is about to be the next big thing in island holidays. Social media videos under hashtag “#CookIslands” have amassed more than 10 million views, suggesting many people are investigating the tiny island nation for their next holiday.

Cook Islands Tourism Corporation Australasian general manager Graeme West told TND that in 2019, the Cook Islands welcomed about 29,000 Australian visitors.

This year, he expects more than 35,000 will head to the South Pacific paradise. That’s a lot for a nation of about 20,000 people spread across 15 islands in the South Pacific.

Why the Cook Islands?

The furthest you’ll have to drive on the largest island of Rarotonga is 20 minutes, West promises.

He said part of the islands’ appeal was the laid-back attitude of locals, which many Australians apparently find to be quite different from other spots in the Pacific.

“The biggest thing about the Cooks is you don’t stay in your resort the majority of the time,” West said.

Most tourists stick to the capital Rarotonga and Aitutaki, which is just 40 minutes north by plane and very popular with Australian tourists.

Sailboat in the idyllic Muri lagoon in Rarotonga in the Cook islands in Polynesia south Pacific

The Cook Islands are just a few short hours from Sydney. Photo: Getty

“I guess [Aitutaki] has been considered the jewel in the crown. It is small … but it has one of the most stunning lagoons you will ever see,” West said.

“The colours, the blues, it’s a big lagoon with 15 little islands in it and it is absolutely spectacular.”

Social media had also been a big benefit to the island nation, West said.

“I think people really appreciate and enjoy it when they see regular people or influencers or anybody posting their experience. It’s not coming from us as sales or marketing speak,” he said.

“It’s just somebody going ‘well, look, I’m here on holiday’.”

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Source: TikTok/Sunnypassports

Jetstar gets Aussies there

Despite being relatively close to Australia, up until last year it was pretty difficult to get to the Cook Islands.

Travellers usually had to go via Auckland to get to Rarotonga, stretching a potential five-hour flight into a full day’s journey with sometimes multiple stopovers and hours-long layovers.

In June 2023, Jetstar announced direct flights to the Cook Islands from Australia – the first Australian airline to do so in 30 years.

Jetstar’s chief customer officer Alan McIntyre anticipated last year that the convenience of being able to fly direct would help boost the nation’s popularity among Australians.

“Now just a five-hour flight from Sydney, our new service will make the Cook Islands the next hot holiday spot for Australians seeking a tropical island escape to relax and unwind, especially during cooler months,” he said.

In March, Jetstar added a fourth weekly flight, saying it had carried 8000 passengers since its direct flights launched.

Before the pandemic, Air New Zealand had a direct Sydney-Rarotonga flight. West said it had not restarted as travel resumed after Covid.

“Having that direct access now, while it’s still way smaller than the number of flights to Fiji and other places like that, it’s a huge benefit to us,” he said.

“Because we haven’t had that kind of capacity or frequency on a non-stop flight before out of Australia.”

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