If you’ve read the last few posts, you know that we have had a pretty special time in Suwarrow National Park in the Northern Cook Islands. The girls have been tasked with more writing projects lately and I was really pleased with the work they put into the recent posts. Thanks for all the very nice comments, we have read them all to the girls. We will be replying to comments and adding pictures when we find our next internet connection which might be Niue.
We were extremely lucky to have Suwarrow all to ourselves for a week. This atoll was home to Tom Neal in the 60’s and 70’s and his time there was the subject of his book, An Island to Oneself. These days, I imagine that it is a bit of a conundrum for the Cook Islands government. Extremely important to the oceanic and avian wildlife and a nice rest stop for cruisers on their way west or north, it is also costly to manage and brings in very little money; likely, it is deep in the hole with what they have to pay the rangers to live out there for 5 months a year to keep an eye on things, track wildlife populations, clean up trash and check in and out cruisers who come through. It only cost is $50 USD to check into Suwarrow for a maximum of 14 days, multiply that by the 106 boats that came in this year and that isn’t paying for much. Yes, it does seem that we are one of the last, if not, the last boat through there this year. Closing down National Parks again!
The Suwarrow Atoll is very restricted and rightfully so. It’s only open from June 1st through October 31st and you are only allowed to anchor your boat in one anchorage which is small, fairly deep and strewn with coral heads which like to snag your anchor chain. You can’t anchor anywhere else in this atoll. If you want to go check out another location you need permission from the Rangers and you better have a good dinghy and good weather so that the ride isn’t too bumpy. In general you’re not allowed to step foot on any other island other than Anchorage Island unless accompanied by a Ranger.
We remained close to Anchorage Island, the motu that protects the anchorage and the home of the Rangers while they are there. On our first night we had a lovely pot luck with the three other boats that were there. They took off in the following days and we were left with Suwarrow to ourselves. While the weather was a bit rough, we caught up on school. I laid down a nice long daily list that the girls tackled with varying degrees of enthusiasm. When the wind lightened up, we took afternoon excursions. Over two days we circumnavigated the island on foot. On another day, the girls did a reef walk, as you likely read about. The following two days the winds really let up so we took the dingy over to a shallow reef near the anchorage where the Giant Oceanic Manta Rays have a “cleaning station”.
The Manta Rays were the highlight of my experience in Suwarrow. The Mantas have a symbiotic relationship with little cleaner fish called the Bluestreaked Cleaner Wrasse. The Mantas arrive at the reef, fly low over the coral bommies and wait for the little fish to “hop on.” The Mantas then swim slowly around as the fish nibble away and clean up the parasites on the Mantas. We don’t know, as we didn’t watch them for long enough, but it did seem possible that they then swing back around to the bommies where they picked up the fish so that they could be let off back at their home. Right when we jumped in the water a HUGE manta (10-12′ wingspan) was gliding along and we all got to swim along with it marveling at its beauty and size. It was breathtaking. During our snorkel, we encountered three more Manta Rays. Two of them had black bellies, which we are told is quite rare. I don’t think I can properly describe the feeling of awe one feels when encountering this extremely elegant, large and graceful animal in the ocean. It is a feeling that is akin to fear as well as admiration and fascination.
Aside from the Mantas, there were also lots of other fun things to see in the water. Cameron always spots eels and groupers while I love looking at the little damsel fish.
The next day we made another pilgrimage to the other end of this reef. We saw a much wider variety of fish, larger pelagic fish, nice big groupers, huge parrot fish and a fair number of sharks, Grey, Whitetipped and Blacktipped. Thankfully they seem uninterested in us. Before we left the water we were again greeted by a Manta Ray, this time, it almost seemed to want to play with us, circling around us, turning into us and then darting off only to swing back around. It was something I will never forget. Thankfully we have lots of GoPro video as well just in case I forget.
Soon after our Manta adventures the Rangers were kind enough to take us to Bird Island to investigate the bird population there. As you’ve read, it was a pretty awesome experience.
With the weather turning it is time to make our way south and out of the path of the cyclones that sweep through this area in the southern hemisphere’s summer time. Isa is anxious to get to New Zealand. We think it is because she associates it with Christmas and a possible trip home. So, Isa and Cameron sat down and did some weather routing and some route planning. She decided that we should leave from Suwarrow yesterday to head to Nui, which is exactly what we are doing.
We have just completed our first 24 hours of the estimated 5 day passage to Nui. It is a bit more “sporty” out here with confused seas and stiffer winds. But the winds and most of the seas are on the beam which makes for, if not comfortable, at least consistent boat movement patterns. With the livelier sea state we are mainly trying to keep things simple, eating previously prepared meals from the freezer, reading lots and trying to remember to hold on to anything on a “flat” surface. The only thing that has landed on the floor so far is the bread dough and that recovered very well.
Ciao for Now!