Airlines have welcomed the first steps towards a Cook Islands air bridge, with Air New Zealand's first quarantine-free flight from Rarotonga to arrive on Thursday.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced that from next week visitors from the Cooks will be able to enter the country without needing to quarantine or book into MIQ.
"Following confirmation of the Cook Islands' Covid-free status, and the implementation of strict health and border protocols we are now in the position to resume quarantine-free travel for passengers from the Cook Islands into New Zealand," the PM said.
The New Zealand national carrier has announced that its first quarantine-free flight will arrive in Auckland on 21 January.
"This is fantastic news for both Cook Islanders and New Zealanders," said Greg Foran, Air New Zealand CEO.
"We know many Cook Islanders will be eager to connect with friends and family in New Zealand, and we look forward to seeing what a two-way quarantine-free travel arrangement will look like."
The airline said it had been working with both governments in anticipation of the announcement and would be the first to provide a quarantine-free link under the agreement.
Startup airline Pasifika Air - formerly Jet Raro – also welcomed the news, though it would not be operating flights at this stage.
Mike Pero said the announcement was "baby steps" and "great that it's happening."
"Obviously it won't help Kiwi holidaymakers at this stage but hopefully [a one-way bubble] will help establish procedures at both ends and lead to better things, as promised by the government."
Pero said the airline would miss the opening of the Cooks-NZ bubble while its operations got off the ground, but that Pasifika Air was on track to receive its air operator's certificate in time for winter.
"We may not be the first ones to be operating there but all will be in place for the July school holidays and winter high season."
The one-way bridge will serve Cook Islanders who needed to access essential services in New Zealand, which had been asked for by Cook Islands prime minister Mark Brown.
Many safety measures will remain in place. Pre-departure health requirements will still need to be met by passengers and arrivals from Rarotonga will need separation from other travellers at Auckland International Airport. Passengers on Air NZ's Rarotonga flights will still be required to wear masks while travelling.
Ardern said work is still underway to open a 'two-way' air bridge between the countries but that travellers can expect one "within the first quarter of 2021".
For now travel to the Cook Islands is still limited to Cook Islanders and current holders of Cook Islands work and residence permits who meet health entry requirements.