Suwarrow, Cook Islands

Bora Bora, Maupiti, Suwarrow

3rd to 17th September

Approaching Maupiti
Thank goodness, before heading for the Cook Islands, I stopped at the little Society island of Maupiti, my final anchorage in French Polynesia. Before that, Bora Bora, with its lavish, high-class and unduly swanky reputation, allround price extortion, smelly traffic, and buzzy overpowered jet skis had left a flavour of mild disappointment and annoyance. Maupiti, just 30 miles away, in contrast, reminded me of the true delights and unsullied beauty of the vast majority of French Polynesia.

‘Not very pretty’ cruise/cargo vessel, Bora Bora
In case you didn’t already know, the fastest way to destroy a place’s natural charms, other than a nuclear test programme, is to feature it in fat heavy glossy magazines (the kind probably found in expensive beauty salons rather than your average dentist’s waiting room), build a few Hiltons, Intercontinentals and others of that ilk, and maybe even send along a few ‘exclusive’ little cruise ships; and in no time at all it’ll be as flashy and tasteless, or tawdry and unlovely as you could imagine. In the case of Bora Bora, the coral will be dead too and you can be fleeced $90 for a quick boat trip to see manta rays – most of whom, being sensible fellows flapped off and fled ages ago; oh! and, if you as a humble cruiser, so much as set foot on one of the hotel jetties you can be $50 out of pocket (each) before you even move!

Us yachties know we’re lucky to choose our landfalls and, give or take the odd spell of nasty weather when forced quickly to find shelter and silly mistakes or incidences of plain ignorance, don’t visit or hang around for long in such unsavoury places. (Bora Bora doesn’t want us much anyway; our budgets aren’t up to it.) But, as a footnote I add that it is a convenient place to go through exit formalities and customs and get clearance papers for next foreign places, and the gendarmes who handle such stuff in Bora Bora were perfectly polite, friendly and helpful.

Moving on, after that little Bora outburst, I had a boisterous sail over to Maupiti, in through its narrow reef pass and meandering well-marked channel, overlooked by towering craggy mountain, to a calm anchorage with four others – including my favourite Berliners, the adventurous young family on Kalibu (if you read German or even if you don’t, have a look at

View of pass and meandering channel to Maupiti anchorage out of sight to left
Given a forecast of dwindling winds (and the fact that Bora Bora had gobbled up the last of my local currency) I didn’t stay in Maupiti very long. Just enough time to enjoy supper on Kalibu, wander past the well-kempt, flowery gardens of homesteads on the main street, smiling local folk, and another day to stagger up the highest peak, the hot steep beautiful, Tiriano (only 1,200 ft, but felt more! they’ve put ropes to help on steep bits, and somewhere there’s a lone sailor selfie photo of me looking silly).

It’s not really as steep as it looks
Feeling energetic and cheerful I did lots of swimming too, and started to clean the worst of the weed that now grows vigorously on Henrietta’s bottom.

And then, with decision taken to sail to Suwarrow (690 miles), I upped anchor and set out. Wind dwindled even quicker than forecast and before the first night, we were rolling and slopping along at less than 3 knots, cooked by tropical sun, with outline of Maupiti, destined to remain visible for nearly 24 hours.

Panorama from top of Maupiti
It wasn’t till day 4 that wind picked up, making it more than six days for this little bit of the Pacific. (I still can’t get over how big it is!) The only alarming event was as I sipped a morning mug of tea. A massive bang and Henrietta shook….spinnaker pole had broken its mast track and was being held at one end only by skinny bit of rope and shackle pin. Quickly (not really very ‘quickly’ because it was mighty rolly and windy at that stage) I found that rivets had sheared and bit of tracking snapped off; so lowered pole to deck and tied it down; rearranged sail plan and adjusted course; often wishing I had the balance, the strength and the dexterity of a much much younger man; and resumed my mug of tea – which by then was of course stone cold.

Next stop, Suwarrow is a tiny atoll, at least 200 miles from the nearest people, that was put on the map, as it were, because a New Zealander, Tom Neale, lived a hermit life here for many years from 1952 and wrote a book about it, “An Island to Oneself”. He was buried here when he died in 1977.

Some photos on Suwarrow

It’s now a Cook Islands National Park (birds and sealife) and two park rangers, Harry and Katu, live here six months a year and help visiting yachts deal with the many bits of paper required for immigration, biosecurity, customs, yacht entry…and I know not what, and they spray inside our boats with some foul stinky insecticide. 

Suwarrow anchorage (photo from masthead of Red Max – thank you, Monique)
There are not so many visiting yachts as in the past; Henrietta is only number 46 this year and there won’t be many more as I’m very near the back of the pack (which meanders across the Pacific each year heading for New Zealand or Australia before cyclone season).

Park Rangers, Harry and Katu
Sailors on Suwarrow
I stayed several days at Suwarrow as, in line with other places with few visitors, it’s sociable and friendly, and unspoilt, and Harry and Katu are wonderful and welcoming hosts, advise of where to see birds, and snorkel for rays, and sea snakes and shark  (none of which seem at all hostile), and I value the international flavour (seven boats from seven different countries, with folk representing about ten different nations.)

But it’s time to move on……(no internet on Suwarrow of course so this will have to wait till Tonga)

5 thoughts on “Suwarrow, Cook Islands

  1. Wonderful blog and incredible photos Mike. I just can’t get over your amazing adventures. The places look so beautiful and great to see pictures of you and other happy sailors. Margie x


  2. What adventures you’re having Mike! Great blog. Really enjoy reading it. Barnardo road must seem a very long way away. x


  3. Terrific. More descriptive stories from the southern ocean, conjouring lovely scenes for the reader. Delightful. Keep them coming, Mike. Happy sailing in between.


  4. Michael – thank you so much for your wonderful words from the other side of the world! Snippets that manage to paint a perfect & true picture of your world wanderings … the ideal antidote to a landlocked Sunday in autumnal Shropshire.
    Looking forward to reading your next posting – which I note has recently landed in my inbox.


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