Penrhyn - General Info

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Description: 

Reputed to be the largest island atoll of the Cooks, Penrhyn is also the northernmost island and probably the most remote and most difficult to access, but the immense spectacular lagoon of 233 square kilometres, much of which is surrounded by a coral ring, make the challenge of visiting this island well worth it.

Also recognised as Tongareva, Mangarongaro, Hararanga, and Te Pitaka, Penrhyn’s population of about 200 lives in two settlements at opposite ends of the lagoon – Omoka which sits on Moananui Islet and is the seat of the council and Tetautua on Pokere Islet on the eastern rim.

The main source of income here used to be black pearls, but that has collapsed and now the majority of locals work for the government. They also derive income from selling exquisitely made handicrafts (woven hats, fans, earrings, purses, necklaces (sei poreho), mats and bags) made from young coconut tree leaves called ‘rito’ and the pandanus leaves ‘rauhara’.

Omoka anchorage. Image courtesy of Cook Islands Government.

Entrance Notes and Cautions:

Takuua and Taruia passes are not difficult to navigate unless passage is attempted during extreme weather conditions. The entrance through the Taruia passage on the NW side is reported to be the most straightforward, pick your way through the bommies in good light to Omoka village.

The lagoon has numerous coral patches, but with good light they are easy to see and many are marked with poles.

Take great care anchoring off the village at Omoka as there is alot of coral that can snag your anchor.

Cruiser Highlights:

The lagoon is reported to be vibrant with plenty of marine life, particularly around the NW passage, including lots of sharks.  Few boats visit here (15 in a busy year) so the people are very open and enthusiastically welcoming.

Local rules:

There are some local rules, which if not observed by cruisers, will cause problems. Ask about any other rules, but these two are the major ones.

  • Sundays are for church only – this is a very strict rule. There is absolutely no work, business or play allowed. No check-in or out on a Sunday. The dinghy cannot be used except to go ashore for church. There is no work allowed on boats, no swimming, snorkeling or other activities not related to the church. No boats are allowed to leave on a Sunday.
  • Anchoring is only allowed in front of either of the two villages.
  • No moving the boat without permission or visiting another motu before obtaining an agreement from the village councils.
  • No dogs allowed anywhere on the atoll.

If you are uncertain about any issues, please contact the Tongareva Island Government Executive Officer, Mr. Puna John Vano:
Office: (682) 56 760 or (682) 42 085
Home: (682) 42 100
E-mail: [email protected]

Position:

08° 57’34″S, 158° 03’43″W

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Penrhyn was last updated 9 months ago.

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  1. July 12, 2023 at 3:02 AM
    Ian Hay says:

    We arrived in Penrhyn (Tongreva) early May, 2023, came through the easy, short pass named Taruia, on the NW side and picked our way through the bommies in good sunlight and anchored in front of Omoka village. (Recommended spot 8.58,700S
    158.3,100 W). The checkin people (customs, immigration, bio security, health and agriculture) came out to us within an hour and were super friendly organized and professional. For our 43’ monohull and two people the cost was $150NZ plus $2.50NZ per day. We did not have to check in beforehand with the central government in Rarotonga as Penrhyn has removed themselves from that process, nor did we need to inform Penrhyn of our planned arrival date, just show up. Sundays are for church so there is no checkin or work of any kind and Saturday atyou may or may not get checked in. Presently there is no ATM so you have to bring foreign currency in cash. We had $US which they would only trade 1:1 as it is difficult for them to get rid of the $US themselves.
    There are WiFi hotspots and you can buy vouchers with a password to get you connected. The Vodaphone guy is a mile or two out of town but you should be able to catch a motorbike ride down to him pretty easily.
    Presently there are 189 people living in Penrhyn with 28 of them living across the lagoon in Tetautua. We are the first cruising sailboat to stay awhile in 3 years (there was a guy, Tom Robinson, who is rowing his way across the Pacific, who stayed 4 months and had left before we arrived) and we have found this place to be very special. Maybe because there is so little tourism (15 sailboats visit in a “busy” year) we have found the people to be so open and enthusiastically welcoming. The lagoon is vibrant with life (great spearfishing) and the NW pass, the only one we have dove here so far, has some of the best marine life that we have seen in the Pacific although most of the coral in the pass was dead. And lots of sharks of course.
    We sailed across to Tetautua and anchored in the very calm sandy waters in front (you are only allowed to anchor in front of the two villages but you may possibly ask permission to anchor somewhere else). They love it when kid boats show up and all the children can interact. Unfortunately they are not so enthusiastic about dogs as they are not allowed on the island anywhere.
    There is no pearl farming or pearl diving happening here these days and we have not really done much trading with anybody.
    There is a yacht book that sailors have been signing for 40 years that is interesting to read through.
    This is my second time across the Pacific but first time to Penrhyn, and I have to say it is our favourite island (and we loved French Polynesia, especially the Marquesas). It is not on the straight line path towards Tonga if you are coming from French Polynesia but it is so well worth the few days north to get here, it really is.
    Ian and Ann
    SV Afrikii

    1. July 12, 2023 at 5:41 AM
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      Sue Richards says:

      Thank you for this wonderful feedback Ian and Ann – we are making this into a report for the site so that more of our users can find the information.