Cook Islands Get Airlift Reprieve from Aloha

Hawaii-based carrier begins twice-weekly flights between Honolulu and the Cook's capital island, Rarotonga

By: Robert W. Bone

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands To Ian Karika, Aloha Airlines’ new flights mean that the Canadians will be coming back.

Karika, director of the Takitumu Conservation Area, regularly conducts nature walks around the 380-acre reserve. In 2001, about 600 visitors came to the private park. But the numbers dropped to around 400 after the failure of Canada 3000, the charter airline that offered frequent service between Rarotonga and Vancouver, B.C., until it stopped flying in late 2001.

Until then, “we always had plenty of Canadians,” he said. Now, Karika and many of his fellow islanders hope the additional flights will bring U.S. tourists, too.

Aloha Airlines, the Hawaii-based carrier, began twice-weekly flights in December between Honolulu and Rarotonga, the Cook’s capital island. The only other international service has been Air New Zealand stopovers on flights between Auckland and Los Angeles.

Rarotonga is a six-hour flight straight south of Honolulu. It and the other 14 Cook Islands strung across 770,000 square miles of the South Pacific enjoy a reputation as an undeveloped paradise. Not only are most prices cheap the country uses the New Zealand dollar but so far the tiny nation has not allowed international hotel chains, restaurants or other commercial enterprises to mar its traditional Polynesian atmosphere.

Construction did begin on a Sheraton a few years ago. But most of the islands’ 20,000 residents opposed the project and rumors of graft and corruption swirled around it. Dennis Heather, a Rarotongan Maori who leads the four-wheel-drive Safari Mountain Tour, recently pointed out the empty shell to his guests. “Crooked politicians,” he explained simply. “They’re the only ones who wanted the Sheraton.”

Aloha’s introductory roundtrip fare between Burbank or Orange County airports and Rarotonga is $670, while roundtrip fares between Honolulu and Rarotonga begin at $443. Prices will be in effect through Feb 9.

Aloha, which began direct service between Vancouver and Honolulu in 2002, is offering an introductory C$1,299 roundtrip fare between Vancouver and Rarotonga through January.

Details on Aloha’s flight schedules and other information are available at The Cook Islands Tourism Corp. maintains a Web site at