Posted by: Carol | May 9, 2009

Suwarrow Atoll

2009 South Pacific

CBParker_D3_20090508_SuwarrowUW-117.jpgWe arrived at Suwarrow atoll Thursday morning at the end of the 200 mile passage from Penrhyn – uneventful sailing, light winds, a very comfortable ride. At night the radar screen was so empty it appeared to be broken – not a squall in sight. We did cross paths with the supply ship out of Rarotonga making its rounds of the islands, also passed a large buoy floating free – but nothing else. Nearly a full moon so lots of light on the water all night long.

The cruising we are doing now is off the beaten track for sure – these small islands are 100s of miles from neighboring islands and 1000s of miles from any continent. To get to an international airport would require about three days and nights of sailing barring any weather complications. Probably this is as remote as we will ever be in our past and future cruising life.

CBParker_D700_20090507_Suwarrow-008.jpgAs we made our approach to Suwarrow’s entrance pass we trolled for gamefish and, sure enough, no sooner than Rod spoke the magic words “Now we’re going to catch a fish” we hooked a tuna. We hauled it in, reset the lure, made one big circle with Raven and landed a second tuna! That’s the way fishing used to be in the seas before the big commercial fleets started wiping out fish by the schools.

The largest of the motus, Anchorage Island, is just to the right of the entrance passage, and here is where the so-called warden, John, and his family are headquartered. Other than that one family, Suwarrow is totally uninhabited and holds a unique status as the Cook Islands’ only national park. Theoretically the park is open only 5 months of the year from June 1 – November 1. Then the warden and his family head back to big city life on Rarotonga for the rest of the year.

We politely checked in with John on the day of our arrival. He is an ex-cop from “Raro” and welcomed us with a tough attitude and a big list of rules – but soon revealed himself to be rather comical and quite entertaining as he recounted memorable episodes from his five seasons as park warden. His wife is very friendly and outgoing and giggled often during his diatribe, and their four boys hung out on the outskirts, curious and friendly. On an average Suwarrow hosts some 100 yachts per season, but for the 2009 season we are the first and so far the only yacht in the lagoon, which turns out to be a big advantage as John is willing to let us explore on our own, rather than accompanying us on all ventures (to be sure we mind the rules) which is the standard practice when several yachts are here at a time.

A host of small black tipped reef sharks have gathered about Raven, identical to their counterparts in Penrhyn. We spent some time mock-fishing them – tying a tuna head to a rope (no hook) and letting the little sharks grab onto it, as tenacious as Jack Russell terriers when they grab hold with their jaws and don’t let go. We’ve done some snorkeling (including at John’s favorite spot just off the shores of Entrance Island) and a drift out the pass on the outgoing tide, holding onto the dinghy and getting towed along for the ride. However a number of smaller grey sharks eventually were attracted to our dinghy and we declined to join them in the water.

CBParker_D3_20090508_SuwarrowUW-018.jpgSuwarrow is absolutely beautiful. It has become rather well-known among cruisers as the result of a book, now considered a South Seas classic, called “An Island to Oneself” written by John Neale, a rather eccentric Kiwi who lived here completely alone for fifteen years. The perimeter of the atoll is largely submerged, only visible by the opalescent colors of the shallow water and the lines of breaking surf against the barrier reef. Sporadically small insignificant motus (islands) pop up out of the sea – we walked the full circumference of one the other day in about 10 minutes. The water is so clear that, although we are anchored in about 40 feet of water, we can look over the side and practically count the grains of sand on the bottom as well as watch the fish going about their business.

Among the bird life here are fairy terns, delicate snow-white seabirds with huge black eyes. When we hike ashore, they circle around us and then hover in mid-air to inspect us more thoroughly. The photos I shot of them were with my camera still encased in its underwater housing – some 13.5 pounds of equipment all told to heft into the air and try to focus on the flitting birds!

We have plans to go fishing with hook and line from the dinghy at some point to fill our freezer with fish, but so far it hasn’t happened. We have captured some wild green coconuts, however! Last evening we watched as John and his entire family headed out to the pass – they caught three rainbow runners for their dinner. They have no refrigerator or freezer, so dinner is what they catch on the day! At sunset the boys come out to the end of the pier and lower the Cook Island flag down the flagpole to the sound of three long blows on a shell horn. Our evening entertainment consists of viewing (and photographing) the stupendous sunsets and our never-ending quest to spot the elusive Green Flash.




  1. I so much enjoy your stories and pictures. Thank you for including me.

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