Coral Route Service Discontinued

Air New Zealand has announced that it is canceling its weekly service between Rarotonga, Cook Islands, and Nadi, Fiji, effective October 27, 2007. This follows the carrier's April abrogation of its Tahiti to Rarotonga service. The Coral Route from Auckland to Fiji, Samoa, the Cook Islands, and Tahiti, pioneered by Tasman Empire Airways Limited (today Air New Zealand) in the 1950s, is now effectively dead.

From October on, the only practical gateways to the Cook Islands will be Auckland, Sydney, and Los Angeles. Air Tahiti and Air Rarotonga have launched a joint Tahiti-Rarotonga service, but at NZ$349 one way it's a costly add-on. Packaged tourists from Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. won't be overly affected by the demise of the Coral Route, but anyone wishing to travel between Rarotonga or Tahiti and Fiji will now be forced to transit Auckland.

These developments vindicate the decision of the government of French Polynesia to establish Air Tahiti Nui in 1996. Small island nations dependent on foreign airlines are effectively at their mercy, and when companies like Air New Zealand or Branson's Pacific Blue decide it's in their bottom line interest to drop a route, they do so without hesitation.

The South Pacific is fast becoming a one-stop shop where mosquito-bite tourists from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the U.S. pop in for a week or two before flying directly home. Wide-ranging island-hopping trips touching several countries are becoming more difficult to book and a lot more expensive.

While planning new editions of my guidebooks, I'm forced to take these changes like these into account. The fourth and fifth editions of Moon Handbooks Tahiti included a full chapter on the Cook Islands. Well, with very few travelers now visiting both French Polynesia and the Cook Islands on a single trip, that rationale has evaporated and the Cook Islands will not be included in the sixth edition of Moon Tahiti. That's despite the fact that I recently visited the Cooks and updated all the information in the previous edition. I've no regrets as any excuse to visit Rarotonga is a good one.

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