Despite a geographical divide that spans nearly 4,600 miles, Hawaiʻi and New Zealand (Aotearoa) are often thought to be bonded by a shared commitment to their culture, language and Pacific Island heritage. For 10 years, Hawaiian Airlines’ nonstop flights have served as another bridge between the two countries. Since the route’s launch on March 13, 2013, Hawaiian has proudly carried approximately 144,000 people between Auckland and Honolulu.
New Zealand Country Director Russell “Rusty” Williss, who shares a work anniversary with the route, reflected on the decade-long journey. “It’s been 10 challenging but wonderful years of ‘always on’ and never giving up,” he said.
“This industry isn’t for the faint-hearted because of how competitive it is—especially in New Zealand. All-in-all, we have fun with a great team and incredible support from partners like Hawaiʻi Tourism Oceania, who have helped us grab some remarkable wins for Hawaiian in this market.”
The anniversary was commemorated in the spirit of mālama (to care), with Honolulu- and Auckland-based employees giving back to two Kiwi nonprofits: The Rising Foundation, which places South Auckland youth on a long-term pathway toward university, postsecondary education, trades training and employment, and the Sea Cleaners, which cleans and cares for New Zealand’s shorelines and has partnered with HTO and Hawaiian Airlines since 2019.
Each of the two nonprofits was gifted a $5,000 donation and received help from the hands of Team Kōkua, Hawaiian’s employee giving program.
Eight Team Kōkua volunteers waded into the muddy mangrove forests in West Auckland alongside Sea Cleaners staff to remove rubbish caught in the trees’ roots during the changing tides and recent extreme flooding events. The group filled two boats with their findings, including a trampoline, a wheelbarrow, keiki (children) toys, plastic pallets, bags and bottles, business signs and more.
At The Rising Foundation, 11 volunteers attended a presentation to learn about the organization’s impact and then worked alongside program participants and alums in packing community food boxes with nutritious fruits, vegetables and pantry items.
Manakō Tanaka, a senior community and cultural relations specialist at Hawaiian Airlines, was among the group that traveled to Auckland to celebrate the route’s anniversary. “As I sit at my desk in Honolulu this morning, I find myself reflecting on the impact we had – not just on the organizations, but on one another. Iʻm feeling pretty #PualaniProud,” he said.
Looking back, Williss says his favorite moment in our 10-year operation has been the return of service following the New Zealand government’s relaxation of its strict entry restrictions imposed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Without a doubt, I’ll never forget standing on the Auckland Airport ramp and watching the return of Pualani to New Zealand in July of last year. I was on the tarmac with half a dozen ramp guys and Braams Olwage, Hawaiian’s maintenance manager in Auckland, all ready to welcome the aircraft and our guests back. It was just the best feeling to be so up close and personal as HA445 rolled in from Honolulu for the first time in 27 months,” Williss reflected.
For the next decade ahead, Williss says his focus is on seeing Hawaiian continue to thrive and innovate as a leading operator from Oceania to Hawaiʻi and the U.S. mainland. To get there, he’s sticking to the secret sauce that’s led him to success over the years:
“Work can get tough, but it's all worth it if you’re passionate and proud of your work and your team. We love what we do for Hawaiian Airlines here in Auckland, and sometimes love and a bit of elbow grease is all it takes.”