New Zealand will open its borders further in a fortnight, allowing quarantine-free travel to the Cook Islands from May 17.
The move – which comes after months of negotiations between the New Zealand-aligned Pacific nation and Jacinda Ardern’s government – follows the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble in April.
It will also provide another options for Australians hoping to resume exploring the world.
However, the plans revealed by Ms Ardern on Monday do not amount to a three-way bubble between Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands. Travellers from Australia hoping to take a break in the Pacific paradise will have to spend 14 days in New Zealand before heading on to Rarotonga.
Ms Ardern said it would be a matter for the Cook Islands government on whether it would open to Australia without the NZ stay.
“It will mean families can reconnect, commercial arrangements can resume and Kiwis can take a much-welcomed winter break and support the Cook Islands’ tourism sector and recovery,” she said.
The Cook Islands is deeply dependent on tourism and Ms Ardern acknowledged it had been eager to re-open to New Zealand for some time.
“Such a big part of their economy has been tourism and New Zealanders make up a large part of that,” she said.
“We wanted to make sure when we did it, we got it right.
“We don’t want to run the risk of exporting COVID to the Cook Islands which has been COVID-free.
“The delay has not been anything to do with the Cooks but more making sure we are prepared in the event in which we have a case that crosses the border into the Cook Islands.”
NZ is also funding and supporting the rollout of vaccine to the approximately 15,000 adult Cook Islanders beginning in May.
It will mean NZ is likely to complete a COVID-19 vaccination of another country before Its own rollout is completed.
Ms Ardern said the practicalities of shipping, storing and administering vaccine in the Pacific meant it would be sensible to do it quickly.
“We’re trying to act equitably but we’ve also got to do what makes good logistical sense,” she said.
Given their nation’s COVID-free status, Cook Islanders have been allowed to enter New Zealand without a fortnight-long stay in quarantine since January.