Two Pacific Island neighbors were rejoined by air this weekend after Hawaiian Airlines inaugurated weekly nonstop service between Hawai‘i and the Cook Islands, an archipelago nation known for its rich culture, Polynesian roots and tropical beauty.
Hawaiian first operated its Honolulu (HNL)-Rarotonga (RAR) service from 1987 to 1993 with the McDonnell Douglas DC-8 and DC-10. Thirty years later, the carrier’s iconic livery returns to Cook Islands skies, just in time for the U.S. summer season, via its fuel-efficient, 189-passenger Airbus A321neo aircraft.
“We’re so thrilled to begin this service, which greatly expands travel opportunities between the Cook Islands and the 15 continental U.S. cities we serve with convenient one-stop connections in Honolulu,” said Lokesh Amaranayaka, vice president of airport operations at Hawaiian Airlines. “This is the beginning of a prosperous partnership between Hawaiian Airlines and the Cook Islands that we hope will continue to strengthen for many years to come.”
Flight HA495 departs Honolulu at 4 p.m. on Saturdays and arrives in Rarotonga at 10:25 p.m. the same day. The return flight, HA496, departs Rarotonga at 11:35 p.m. on Sundays with a 5:50 a.m. Monday arrival in Honolulu.
“The Cook Islands and Hawaiʻi have a long-standing connection deeply rooted in shared Polynesian heritage, and this route serves as a gateway to world travelers seeking pristine beaches, rich cultural experiences and a touch of paradise,” said the Honorable Robert Tapaitau, deputy prime minister of the Cook Islands, during his remarks at HNL. “To Hawaiian Airlines, I express my heartfelt gratitude for their commitment to connecting our nations. Through this partnership, we embark on a journey of shared growth, mutual prosperity and strengthening ties.”
Hawaiian's inaugural flights were commemorated with lively gateside celebrations that marked the bridging of two Polynesian cultures. At HNL, travelers enjoyed a vibrant display of music and dance from the Hawaiian Airlines Serenaders and a local Cook Islands performance group featuring Cook Islands students attending Brigham Young University–Hawaiʻi, followed by a traditional blessing of the route.
Upon the arrival of HA495, a Cook Islands warrior and dancers welcomed Hawaiian's guests and employees with a ceremony and offered shell ʻei (lei) from Tongareva, an atoll in the northern Cook Islands and the home island of the deputy prime minister.
With just over 24 hours on the ground, Hawaiian’s Community and Cultural Relations team connected with the community and youth groups and joined dignitaries and spiritual leaders from Hawai‘i, New Zealand and the Cook Islands at a luau before the inauguration of HA496.
“At Hawaiian Airlines, we strive to demonstrate what it means to be of Hawai‘i in everything we do. One of the ways we do this is by intentionally and meaningfully connecting with the host culture of the places we serve,” said Debbie Nakanelua-Richards, Hawaiian’s director of community and cultural relations.
The blessing of HA496 was followed by a cultural protocol led by a Cook Islands tohunga (practitioner) and a local pastor. Before the gate announcements, music, dance and remarks of shared gratitude filled the quiet airport, and when it was time to leave, a group of dancers bid guests boarding Hawaiian's A321neo a fond “aere ra” (goodbye or safe travels).
Nakanelua-Richards added, “Our time in Rarotonga has been brief but incredibly rich with fellowship, friendship and the beginning of many things to come. We thank the Cook Islands for their hospitality, for graciously welcoming us into their home, and for the weaving of our two cultures throughout such a memorable inaugural.”