Sunday, August 14, 2016

Suwarrow - Cook Islands

It has been 9 days since we arrived in Suwarrow and after the initial surprise and frustrations of the “RULES” signposts everywhere we have really grown to love this tiny remote island for many reasons. It is true that things have changed here for cruisers over the past few years: no longer are you allowed to scuba dive, visit the other motu/islands in the lagoon or eat the coconut crab with impunity but Suwarrow still has so much to give. Harry and his son, Pae (pronounced Pie) the rangers turned out to be wonderful people. They entertained us on some of the evenings with their tales of living in the Cook Islands, sang local Polynesian songs while playing their guitars with fishing line for strings and we shared other stories, learning so much about the island and their culture. We will be sad when we leave this small slice of paradise.

Described by Louis Steverson’s wife as the most romantic island in the world or Treasure island, it is a low lying coral atoll and is the southernmost island of the Northern Cook Islands, if that makes sense. Named after the Russian ship Suvorov who visited the island in 1814 the atoll is landlocked apart from the single pass. It has a small number of motus, or small islands, with trees with Anchorage Island being the largest and the residential home for the two Cook Islands National park rangers, Harry and Pae. The island is approx. ½ mile long and 300 yards wide.

Suwarrow is truly a treasure island as in 1876 somebody found gold pieces of eight and jewelry in a turtle’s nest on one of the islands and then a Tahitian salvage ship unearthed an iron chest holding some US$5million worth of coins. Other evidence of human settlement has been found and speculation that a Spanish ship was shipwrecked in the 1700’s due to a musket, skeletons and lime kilns being found in the 1870’s.

The island is also known as the home of New Zealand recluse Tom Neale, who spent a total of 15 years on Anchorage island between 1952 and 1977. His tale is available to read in his book "An Island to Oneself" available by clicking this link.

The island has much to offer including great snorkeling, swimming and fishing although you have to be comfortable with swimming with numerous sharks and know when to get out of the water when their numbers increase or they start acting aggressive.

Suwarrow is now a national park and the Rangers not only act as customs and immigration officers but park wardens ensuring that this wilderness area is protected.

During our 9 day stay in the island we tried to pack in as much as we could. We walked around the island with is colourful reef fish in abundance and watched the numerous reef sharks feeding on the northern side of the island where there is a break in the reef. We dinghied out to a shoal area in the lagoon where Manta rays congregate each morning for their dialing clean by smaller fish. Watching these graceful creatures is quite a delight. We dinghied to Perfect reef in the south of the atoll with Neil and Jessie on Red Thread and marveled at the snorkeling in a mini lagoon. Coral Pinnacles, caverns and canyons and many large schools of Parrot fish made this snorkel quite special. Neil and I had done some reconnaissance the day before, looking at Perfect reef and another, Lewin Reef but decided easily that Perfect reef was far better. We had also encountered a slightly aggressive grey reef shark in Lewin reef which was a bit too interested in us so we decided to get back in the dinghy. We had a similar situation on the outside of Perfect reef where we encountered a few reef sharks but they soon started multiplying and increasing in size with black tips white tips and grey sharks. Neil had brought along a spear and had to nudge one shark that came too close. We decided that it would only take one bigger shark to come along to turn the day sour so we decided to get back in the dinghy and head home.

Betty-Anne from Confidence had her birthday while we were in Suwarrow so we all had a great evening on the beach with Harry and Pae kindly entertaining us. We brought along our Webber BBQ and the 4 boats that were here all brought along a dish. Neil and I had been out on the reef the previous evening hunting for lobster and we caught two nice specimens. Jude cooked them up in a garlic and cream sauce – nothing like home caught, home cooked lobster!    Harry took us all into his camp and showed us the resident coconut crabs. These amazing creatures looking like half crab and half spider can be huge weighing in at over 8 lbs and can live for up to 50 years. Not so long ago it was feasible to catch and eat these crab when visiting the islands but now they are trying to limit their takings and only Cook islanders are allowed to eat them. We watched these lumbering creatures crawl about the ground and easily climb the coconut trees where their strong claws can easily cut down coconuts and get inside the nuts.

Neil from Red Thread

Pae kindly spent an afternoon with us and Neil and Jessie on Red Thread teaching us how to open coconuts and gave us instruction in self-defense, Katya thoroughly enjoying being able to easily put me on the floor.
Pae demonstrating how to husk a coconut
Lessons in self defense
Down I go!

A coconut crab

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