13.14.9S by 163.6.5W – When we first planned our itinerary, after leaving French Polynesia we were going to go to a couple of islands in the Cook Island chain that were literally right on the way. When we started researching the islands, we found that none of them had decent places to anchor the boat. If we wanted to go to the Cook’s, we would have to go to islands farther north or south, both of which were out of our way. So, the revised plan was to skip the Cook’s altogether and go straight to Niue. But several cruisers told us that we really should not miss Suwarrow. Everyone had such good things to say about Suwarrow that we added it to the itinerary, even though it is a two hundred mile (round trip) detour off our route.
New Zealand is the protectorate of the Cook Islands, and also takes care of the Cook’s foreign affairs. Even though they are under New Zealand, the Cook’s are self-governing with a premier (president) elected by the people. They are part of the British Commonwealth and have their own representatives in the Commonwealth. The Cook’s has 16 islands and a total population of only about 13,000.
Suwarrow is an isolated island, a good 150 nautical miles away from it’s nearest neighbor and 300 miles from a population center. It is probably the most isolated place we will visit on our journey. What makes Suwarrow special is that it is a nature preserve that can be accessed only by private boat. No ferries or planes go there. Only about 120 boats a year visit Suwarrow, and it is extremely rare for the boats to contain Cook Islanders. The only people that live on the island are the caretaker and his family.
We were within view of Suwarrow at first light. From the distance, in the deep blue water we could see the long reef line, dotted with many small, green motus. Behind the motus was a layer of gray clouds low on the horizon. Above the line of clouds the sky was pink with the early morning light. All the colors made a majestic sight.
After the sun rose, we saw three dolphins. Unfortunately, they didn’t come and play on our bow. As we got closer, we could see more of the motus along the north and south edges of the reef.
We called on the radio and got permission to come in from the caretaker. As we neared the pass, the water quickly became shallow. The water is so clear we could see the bottom. The pass into Suwarrow has two shallow reefs in the pass, so you come into the pass from one angle, and while in the pass, change course to another angle. One needs to carefully follow the charts, but overall it was not as tricky as Charlies Charts made it out to be. Atolls always have the danger of an uncharted coral head, but the are pretty obvious in sunlight. Eric navigated the pass and we headed over to the nearby anchorage.
The water in the anchorage was amazingly clear, and chock full of coral heads. We dropped anchor directly behind Giles, the French fry guy from San Diego that we met in Bora Bora, and catty corner to Martin and Ginger, the couple that called Eric a geek. This is the longest passage the two of us have completed by ourselves and we are delighted to report it was a success. We did have weather guidance from Bob at ONMI weather, which always makes us feel more comfortable.
It looks just like the Tuomotus here. The low lying land is dense with foliage, especially coconut trees. Along the shore, the water was light blue-green, then turns to turquoise, then to sapphire as your eye moves from land towards the center of the lagoon. After situating Kosmos and getting Kosmopolitan down, we headed in to shore to check in with the caretaker. The only place you are allowed to anchor in the atoll is near the shore where the caretaker lives, so he can keep an eye on what you are up to.
There is a small concrete and rock landing jutting out from a small white sandy beach, with a jungle of palm trees behind it. The sand is laden with small pieces of coral and shell, so shoes were a must. In the sand close to the landing is a sign that says “Suwarrow National Park” and under it is an enormous anchor that has been broken into two. You can see just the edge of the anchor in the bottom of this photo.
To the left, there is a lopsided swing hanging from one of the closest palm trees, and a bench seat between two closely situated palm trees. There is also a pile of mooring balls and miscellaneous looking junk. To the right, there are two hammocks on some coconut trees a few yards down the beach, and a gazebo to just beyond the hammocks. You can see the landing and gazebo in this picture.
We were greeted at the shore by three Polynesian boys. Their parents are the caretakers. A fourth boy came running up shortly after. The boys escorted us down a narrow footpath through the coconut trees only a few hundred yards long to their home. On the left is a low white house, where the semi-famous Tom Neale lived. He wrote a book called “An Island to Oneself” about life alone of Suwarrow.
On the right is a two story wooden structure. The bottom level is an open patio area with a picnic table and small kitchen. It is decorated with a sign that says Suwarrow Yacht Club and old flags that cruisers wrote messages on. This is the recently built structure for the caretaker.
Technically, we are not supposed to be here since we did not check into the country at an official entry port. But we had been told the caretakers allow this, because this is a nature preserve, not really a town. She gave us a three page list of rules and regulations. We gave her our paperwork and she copied it by hand into a log while we read the rules. We paid the fee of $50 American and we were done. It was the easiest paperwork we have done.