As well as providing a direct link to the Cook Islands for South Island passengers, the service delivers an additional connecting opportunity for travellers from Melbourne and Sydney.

Guests on the inaugural service will be met by a festive scene at Christchurch airport tomorrow including a Cook Islands performing group, palm trees and celebratory leis at check-in, as well as non-alcoholic tropical cocktails at the boarding gate.

Upon arrival in Rarotonga passengers will receive a special Cook Islands welcome, with VIP guests invited to a special function hosted by Air New Zealand and the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation and attended by Cook Islands Prime Minister Dr Robert Woonton.

"Since the introduction of everyday low fares to the Pacific Islands we have been closely evaluating new route options as well as opportunities to increase capacity to meet demand," says Air New Zealand Group General Manager Marketing, Network and Sales, Norm Thompson.

"One of the strong areas of growth has been in the number of South Islanders travelling to Rarotonga and the new direct Air New Zealand service has proven very popular with good booking levels to date."

The five hour northbound flight will leave Christchurch on Wednesdays at 4pm, arriving into Rarotonga at 10pm the day before, after crossing the international dateline. The return flight will depart at 12.30am, arriving back into Christchurch at 5am on Thursday morning after a five and a half hour flight.

Fares for the new service are available from NZ$339 one-way (plus applicable levies and taxes). This is the same as existing fares currently available for passengers flying from Christchurch to Rarotonga via Auckland.

The non-stop Christchurch to Rarotonga service is utilising a new 146 seat Airbus A320 aircraft. It is scheduled to provide good connections in both directions with Australian flights, as well as with domestic services throughout the South Island.

NOTE: The content of all Air New Zealand media releases are accurate at the time of issue, as stated at the top of each release. For updates on any changes, please contact Air New Zealand.

Air New Zealand is proud to be a member of Star Alliance. The Star Alliance network was established in 1997 as the first truly global airline alliance to offer worldwide reach, recognition and seamless service to the international traveller. Its acceptance by the market has been recognised by numerous awards, including the Air Transport World Market Leadership Award, Best Airline Alliance by both Business Traveller Magazine and Skytrax. The member airlines are: Adria Airways, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Blue1, bmi, Continental Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EGYPTAIR, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Spanair, SWISS, TAP Portugal, Turkish Airlines, THAI, United and US Airways. Aegean Airlines, Air India, Brussels Airlines and TAM have been announced as future members. Overall, the Star Alliance network offers 19,500 daily flights to 1,071 airports in 171 countries.

For more information about Air New Zealand visit www.airnewzealand.com and for more information about Star Alliance visit www.staralliance.com.