Take A Look At The Cooks

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When does tried and true become tired, or at least no longer new? Hello Bali, no offence, but it’s you I’m talking to. Or, more precisely, to any destination that’s become more habit than holiday. When statistics for a location begin to show big numbers of repeat-time tourists it’s time to ask: is it really due to visitor satisfaction … or have we slid into lazy and hackneyed, missing out on fresh horizons and stimulating novel experiences?

My recent column on Australia’s destination “du jour”, the Cook Islands, prompted questions such as “How long to get there?” and “What does it cost? The latest statistics show some tourists have already found satisfactory answers: Australian visitors to the Cooks this calendar year have already increased by a remarkable 30 per cent – and that measure was before Jetstar began regular services to the capital, Rarotonga, at Easter. The entry of a new airline on a route invariably lifts visitor numbers as well as creating price competition among its rivals.

Jetstar has three return flights a week originating from Sydney and Melbourne, offering Australian travellers connections via Auckland on the more affordable low-fare carrier. There’s no avoiding the Auckland stopover, which is quite tolerable for the average traveller, or: it affords the opportunity to enjoy a dual destination break, spending one or more days in New Zealand itself.

Here’s a sample itinerary travelling from Sydney on Saturday June 11: Depart JQ203 11.45am, arrive Auckland 4.40pm local time. Flight duration: a comfortable 3hrs 5. In transit at Auckland for 3hrs 45, time enough for a relaxed dinner before joining JQ129 at 8.45pm for a snooze on the 4hr flight to Rarotonga. It gets you in at 2.35am Saturday local time (minus a day, International Dateline) and with under a half hour from landing on the tarmac to landing in your room, in time for another four hours’ sleep before greeting Saturday morning.

Returning on JQ130 you’d leave Raro at 3.35am on Saturday June 18, arriving in Auckland at 6.10am Sunday June 19 with 1hr 10 for brekkie and a freshen up on the ground before arriving in Sydney at 9am Sunday AEST. Cost: $820.29 incl 15kg baggage and 7kg carry-on on Airbus A320 aircraft (180 seats, all economy). Snacks like toasted sandwiches, pies and wraps can be pre-purchased (added to the booking) for $8 or bought from a broader on-board menu at in-flight prices.

Then there’s Virgin Australia, operating in alliance with Air New Zealand via Auckland (and offering the choice of Business Class travel if desired). Leaving Sydney on a recent Monday and departing the Cooks the following Sunday saw a 9.50am departure and 3hrs 5 in the air, arriving Auckland at 2.55pm (local time). After a little over an hour on the ground, time for a late lunch perhaps, a 4.30pm departure and 3hrs 50 in the air got passengers into Raro at 10.20pm on Sunday night (local). Return, though, was a little less congenial: departing Rarotonga on the following Sunday night at 11.10pm, the flight of 4hrs 40 arrived in Auckland at 1.50am Tuesday (local) with a wait till 7am for the Sydney leg of 3hrs 35, landing home at 8.35am AEST. This fare, a sample supplied by Virgin and combining a Saver (forward journey) and a Flexi (return) fare, was $1243.64 including 23kg + 7kg baggage/carry-on, meal and some beverages, seat selection and, on the Flexi leg, a free flight change (with conditions). The difference between the Saver and Flexi fares was $111.90.    

Flying Air New Zealand exclusively also requires transiting Auckland, apart from one non-stop (direct) service SYD-RAR and RAR-SYD a week. Business class return fares, ballpark, via VA or AirNZ range around $2300-$2500.

In any event, it’s clear some thorough research is needed to find the flights and fares that suit you best. I suggest: the longer the stay the better, as there’s so much to see and do … and then also to do nothing but lie on the sand or laze about on the lagoon. Of course, there are good-value flight-resort packages of shorter duration at a pricepoint that makes it worth dipping your toes in the water to get a taste of the islands at a bargain price, especially if you’re short of time away.

A good place to start seeking accommodation deals is through Jetstar Hotels, with a choice of around 45 accommodation providers across a very wide range of tariffs. A sampling of some recent offers showed Paradise Inn, modest yet right on the beach, where seven nights for one was $623 or $917 for two. Plenty of budget options, including for families, are listed – though do be sure to check the tripadvisor reviews before committing. My recommendation, Little Polynesian Resort, was listed at $4102 for seven nights for two, but there are plenty of other cheaper, and pricier, options too. Go to www.jetstar.com – choose the Hotels tab, and be sure to enter Cook Islands, plus a date range, to see the list.

If you can book well ahead, these specials for early 2017, including flights, are for sale until June 30: http://sale.cookislands.travel/package/spacifica-royale-takitumu-pkg-exp-30-jun-16-2199/

http://sale.cookislands.travel/package/spacifica-te-vakaroa-pkg-exp-30-jun-16-2349/ – among other packages for 2017 also to be found at www.spacificatravel.com

One thing to note: wherever you choose to stay you’ll almost certainly be right on Rarotonga’s beautiful lagoon beach; only a very few other lowest-budget places are more than a minute or two from the shore.

Susie Boswell, Travel Editor

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