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Suwarrow Atoll Report 2005

By doina — last modified Jun 19, 2006 01:22 PM

Published: 2006-06-19 13:22:08
Countries: Cook Islands

Cruising Notes, Suwarrow Atoll, Cook Islands, South Pacific

By Liliana Vedana and Thomas Müller, Yacht MIZ MAE


The Suwarrow Atoll was named by the Russian ship “Suwarrow” in 1814. This ship also provided the first chart of the atoll. Later the New Zealander Tom Neale made the 7 mile wide atoll famous when he lived here from 1952 until 1977. He was all by himself, as a modern time Robinson, and wrote a book about his life here. Nowadays it’s a popular spot for cruisers coming from Bora Bora, 680 miles away to the southeast. From Suwarrow to US Samoa is another 480 miles.


The approach is much easier than its reputation, but a good chart will be essential or you will have to rely on another boat guiding you in by dinghy.

The beautiful Atoll has its entrance on the northeastern corner. Hug the eastern side of the reef when approaching from the north. Good morning light is the best help you can get. There are actually three ways in. The easiest two are leaving the little “South Reef” either close to your port or starboard side, then head on a north-westerly course into the anchorage behind “home island”. The further in you get, the calmer water you will find. Anchoring is easy in 10 meters of sand, but many boats get snagged in the coral bommies, which litter the ground almost everywhere.


In 2005 Veronica and John were the caretakers of the island. The very friendly couple are from Rarotonga, as the atoll belongs to the Cook Islands, which is then again closely connected to NZ. Veronica will clear you in, also in 2006. Fees are 50 US Dollars for a stay of maximum 30 days. We were 22 boats on the anchorage in August 2005!

Sights to see

You can snorkel and dive everywhere. You may also spear fish, but mind the aggressive and plentiful sharks. No cleaning of fish is allowed on the boat. John provides a table in his back yard to clean fish. You may not go ashore anywhere else than on home island, where there are BBQ´s almost every night in a hut by the beach.

John arranges guided tours to the other islands in the atoll, but only if the cruisers can contribute with gasoline, which is constantly short in supply, probably due to the high cost in French Polynesia.

Trolling for fish is an every day event, fishing stories –true or not- by the bonfire make great entertainment.


As everybody stays longer than planned, gasoline and beer are always the first things on the list of shortages. And there are so many BBQ´s and invitations!

The only thing plentiful here are coconuts and fish. You will have the best time fishing or trolling on the reef. Best results were pink colored lures.

Don’t expect any supplies other than help from fellow cruisers. There is a limited amount of water to shower or wash in from the roof of the caretaker’s house. But only if it rains, so don’t count on it!

John and Veronica are excellent hosts, really trying hard to make everybody comfortable and protect the environment at the same time. They live here in solitude for 8 months a year, in 2006 they will also have their kids joining them. However, we all can imagine what their supplies will be in 8 months on a lonely island. In the old days, the caretaker always relied on the cruisers for basic food, spare parts and any luxury items like sweets, meat or even a cold beer. And even nowadays life would be pretty dull for Veronica and John if we cruisers would not try to honour their friendliness. Please make sure you carry enough gasoline to “pay” your share when going to the other islands. They are fantastic trips in great company! If you can contribute with books, magazines, newspapers in English, any fresh or frozen food supplies, then you become part of an old and well meant tradition.


To tidy up some of the rumours going around about Suwarrow:

NO, you can’t take any eggs or birds!! This is a National Park area!

NO, you can’t harvest any coconut crabs by yourself. John will make very few of them available for the cruisers. But they are protected.

NO, you can’t chop down coconut trees for heart of palm, unless you get permission.

NO, you can’t go ashore on another island than Home Island, unless you get permission from John.

YES, there are tons of sharks. The entrance to the lagoon is a feeding ground and we discourage people from diving there, especially in the early mornings and late afternoons. Seriously large grey reef sharks have always been a problem on Suwarrow and taken its toll. There are NO doctors on the island and its out of helicopter range from the next inhabited island.

Some French sailors managed to break all those rules in August 2005 and put everybody else to shame. John was very disappointed and had to sharpen the rules as a result!

Suwarrow is almost like paradise, so beautiful and at rest with itself. We had just the best time here. Wonderful wildlife, superb diving, good comradeship and very knowledgeable and friendly hosts.

It was an all time high in class with Chagos or Juan de Nova.

Lilly Vedana, Thomas Müller

Yacht MIZ MAE in August 2005