Cook Islands, Penrhyn: Well Worth a Slight Detour

Penrhyn is the northernmost of the Cook Islands and probably the most remote and difficult to access, but is well worth the detour if heading from French Polynesia to Tonga, according to Canadian cruisers Ian Hay and Ann Montgomery, who visited there in May 2023.

Published 10 months ago

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 lives on 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.

Cruisers Ian Hay and Ann Montgomery, onboard SV Afriki, arrived in Penrhyn (Tongareva) in early May 2023. This is their report on what they say is now their “favourite island in the South Pacific.”

Remote and spectacular

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 anchorage at 08.58,700 S
 158.3,100 W.

Penrhyn (c) Cook Islands Travel

The check – in people (customs, immigration, bio-security, health and agriculture) came out to us within an hour and were super friendly, well organized and professional.

For our 43’ monohull and two people, the cost was NZ$150 plus NZ$2.50 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 – we just showed up.

No clearance on Sundays

Sundays are for church, so there is no check-in or work of any kind.  If you arrive on a Saturday you 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 US dollars.

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 were the first cruising sailboat to stay here in three years and we have found this place to be very special.

There was a guy, Tom Robinson, who is rowing his way across the Pacific, who stayed four months and had left before we arrived.  His lengthy four part blog on his stay here is a very informative read: Tom Robinson’s Pacific Journey.

Penhryn (c) Cook Islands Travel

Vibrant lagoon life

Maybe because there is so little tourism (15 sailboats visit in a “busy” year) we found the people to be so open and enthusiastically welcoming. The lagoon is vibrant with life and the NW pass, the only one we have dived 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. Lots of sharks of course!

We sailed across to Tetautua and anchored in the very calm sandy waters in front of the village.  You are only allowed to anchor in front of the two villages, but you may possibly ask permission to anchor somewhere else.

Children are welcome – but no dogs

They love it when kid boats show up and all the children can interact. Unfortunately they are not so enthusiastic about dogs, which 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 now our favourite island (and we loved French Polynesia, especially the Marquesas).

Penhryn (c) Cook Islands Travel

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.

I did a video of highlights of our stay – see

Ian and Ann

SV Afrikii


About the Authors:

Canadian sailors Ian Hay and Ann Montgomery were introduced to each other by a mutual friend. A week before the introduction, serendipity struck when Ian, while driving his van, almost hit Ann while she cycled along Davenport Road in Toronto. Both were concerned and apologetic, but neither knew at the time that, one week later, they would be officially introduced and fall quickly in love. Soon after, they started looking for a boat together.

Ian spent several years in his twenties backpacking off the beaten path which included adventures in the Congo, floating down the Amazon River on a balsa wood raft and hitchhiking across the Atlantic Ocean.  When he landed back in Toronto, he worked in the film industry while doing a total refit of an Ericson 36′ sailboat he named Afriki. He then set out on a five year circumnavigation, single-handing about half of the time and picking up crew along the way. Once back in Toronto,  he started a successful home renovation business, which he shut down so he could go sailing again, this time with Ann.

Ann is a midwife who has worked in Nepal, Haiti, Uganda, Senegal, and the DR Congo with Médecins Sans Frontières. She continues to work part time as a midwife in the Canadian Arctic. She’s raised two amazing kids, reads a book just about every day, and is knitter and sewer extraordinaire. She did an Atlantic crossing in 2019 on her brother’s sailboat, logging several days of rather severe seasickness down the Portuguese coast before regrouping and fully enjoying life at sea all the way to the Caribbean.

Their boat Afrikii, is a Wauquiez Amphitrite 43′ and they are currently sailing the South Pacific.


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The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or World Cruising Club.


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  1. August 1, 2023 at 2:48 PM
    Brian Domander says:

    Careful with anchoring off Omoka. The coral there caught our anchor and we needed the help of some divers to retrieve it. On the check-out, we idled Prince Diamond around outside the reef while one of us dinghied back in to check out. We were not going to risk that again! On the other hand, Tetautua was a lovely anchorage!