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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
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 www.alohaairlines.com. The Cook Islands Tourism Corp.
maintains a Web site at www.cook-islands.com.