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Auckland flooding leaves travelling Cook Islanders stranded

Saturday 28 January 2023 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in National, Travel

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Auckland flooding leaves travelling Cook Islanders stranded
Back: Tani Tixier, Frank Tuipulotu-Arnold, MP for Ngatangiia Tukaka Ama, Leifou Jack. Front: Mama Tuakana Faireka and Caroline Tixier with Juanita Wynne enjoy their stay at Thomas Wynne’s after being stranded at Wellington Airport. SUPPLIED/23012748

It was a surreal night for New Zealand-based Cook Islander Thomas Wynne as he came to the rescue of six Cook Islanders who were trapped in Wellington.

At 10.30pm on Thursday, Wynne received a call that an Air New Zealand flight from Rarotonga bound for Auckland was stranded at the Wellington Airport.

Auckland has suffered severe flooding over the past 48 hours, triggering a state of emergency, and disrupting travel plans for thousands of people. The flooding shut operations at Auckland Airport which was supposed to reopen this morning.

Wynne said: “When I got to the Wellington Airport, I saw my whole community were there, there were so many people from the Cook Islands.”

“I made a couple of trips, there was a sizable group of people unsure what to do.”

Wynne said there were a number of people who stayed at the Airport because they had nowhere to go.

“It was quite surreal. In the morning, we were able to get two in a hired car to drive up to Auckland. We’ve got one with us today (yesterday), he’ll be flying back to Auckland.”

Wynne said there was a sense of relief among the six once they were picked up. The group of six included Tani Tixier, Frank Tuipulotu-Arnold, MP for Ngatangiia Tukaka Ama, Leifou Jack, Mama Tuakana Faireka, Caroline Tixier, and Juanita Wynne.

“There had been a real sense of nervousness about where to go from there, people were unsure what was happening, it was only later we found out about Auckland and the national emergency,” he said.

“Our community here has been fantastic. People have been dropping off food at our place, and I know that there has been similar support for other people stranded.

“Something good did come out of this. It’s just an affirmation of our community spirit.”

Cook Islands Tourism Corporation chief executive Karla Eggelton says the response from Air New Zealand and Jetstar to the flooding event has been exemplary.

Eggelton said closure of the Auckland Airport and cancellation/diversion due to the extraordinary weather experienced in Auckland has been devastating and has had huge implications on airlines – let alone getting the airport operating again.

“In the past hours Auckland Airport has done a commendable job in restoring services and working with airlines to get things back on track,” she said yesterday.

“What could have been multiple days of delays, looks to be much quicker to get services back online (future weather forecast permitting).”

Eggelton said on the Cook Islands front, airlines and accommodators have worked together to manage disrupted passengers from RAR-AKL-RAR. 

“Having spoken with multiple properties and the airlines, it is well in hand,” Eggelton said.

“The good news is the knock-on effect for the Cook Islands will likely be a two-day lag on getting back on top of flights.”

She said there will be some cancellations, but overall loss of business will be minimal.

“Most passengers are rebooking to arrive a couple of days later. We anticipate by Monday we should be back on track.”

Meanwhile Wynne acknowledged Pastor Terence Tauira and Mama Kite and Deputy High Commissioner Piakura Tiraa Passfield from the Cook Islands High Commission who reached out for support.

“Their support was really welcomed, but in the future, it would be great to have a plan in place should an event like this ever happen again,” he said.

“I want to put a response plan together. We’ve got community halls in Wellington and Porirua. So that way we can get people picked up at the airport and taken to somewhere we can support them all.”