Yesterday the Cook Islands said it would be chartering flights from Christchurch to Rarotonga for island residents, some of whom had been sheltering in New Zealand since before the travel corridor was suspended on 17 August.
A month after the Auckland outbreak, the Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was arranging managed return flights for the 125 Cook Islanders outside of Auckland region from Christchurch Airport.
This would make them the first passengers travelling in the direction of Rarotonga since the bubble pause.
It would also be the first jet service to link the South Island and the Cooks since Virgin Australia's briefly-lived route in 2015.
Cook Islands Tourism Corp was quick to point out there was still appetite for direct Cook Islands links bypassing Auckland.
Graeme West, GM for the tourism board, said that the route would not only be viable but also help avoid the bottleneck of travel via Auckland.
"We have had discussions with relevant stakeholders and it is operationally feasible, but we need to explore further the safety aspect of it," he said
With the sudden suspension of the Cook Islands bubble, many tourists were caught out and faced circuitous routes home. Following the travel window, a reduced domestic network and the difficulty of transiting local restrictions in Auckland highlighted the over-reliance on the travel hub.
Suggestion that the Cook Islands might open up to other parts of New Zealand, has led tourism industry to suggest that Wellington or Christchurch services would help proof links to Rarotonga against further disruption.
"If it is deemed safe to do so, it would be fantastic if we could open to regions once they are in level 1," said West.
Travel agents Flight Centre were also keen to see more options for travellers booking trips.
"40 per cent of our bookings to the Cook Islands are currently from customers outside of the Auckland region," said Victoria Courtney GM of product for Flight Centre NZ.
Although, new vaccine requirements for travellers might cause some disruption to bookings in the short term, this requirement was unlikely to dampen appetites for Pacific holidays.
38 per-cent of bookings for Kiwi travellers to Rarotonga pre-Christmas were families and multi-generational parties.
"A number of these customers may not be vaccinated so our Travel Experts are working to let them know the new requirements recently put in place by the Cook Islands Government."
On Monday the Cook Islands prime minister Mark Brown announced that all visitors over 12 must have proof of full vaccination when travel resumes.
"Many people are longing to get to our tropical paradise for a break," said West, who welcomed the vaccine announcement.
"Knowing what the new requirements are likely to be allows them to get vaccinated and prepare for the border re-opening."
Christchurch to Raro a no-go
For all the interest in more air links to Rarotonga one of the most vocal supporters has gone cold on the idea.
Mike Pero, who proposed a new air link last year, said that for now Christchurch links were wishful thinking.
Jet Raro which - later renamed Pasifika Air - was an airline start up specifically to link regions outside Auckland with Rarotonga.
In June the businessman told the Cook Islands news that he had parked up that idea for good, blaming lack of support from the Cook Island government.
"I think there's no likelihood of flights to Rarotonga by any carrier, sadly," he said.
The practicalities of flying to the Pacific and the lack of back-up airports due to pandemic restrictions in Tahiti to divert cause huge operational challenges, he said.
"It would be nice to think that a service once a week from Christchurch or Wellington would be possible," he said but for now the difficulties outweigh the rewards.
In June an Air New Zealand 787 Dreamliner had to fly 3-and-a-half hours back to Auckland after winds caused an aborted landing at Rarotonga.