An island to oneself



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Leaving Bora Bora we sailed out the passage in the reef with Tom's Magic Roundabout and could wave her and the delivery crew goodbye. They headed straight for Tonga, while we set our course for Suvarrow in the northern part of the Cook Islands. Seeing the island dip below the horizon was a moment of mixed emotions. We had to try to embrace the future and get some distance to what happened in Bora Bora, to remember but keep living. We all hoped that distance was going to make it easier to deal with the pain. What would Tom have wanted us to do? "Keep on cruising!"

The weather was not kind to us. As the trip went on the winds increased and we got the usual confused unorganized seas that we have had in most of the pacific. Coconut rolled and rocked, she pitched and surfed, as the waves came from every direction. Later we learned that the underwater sea mounts create this effect. That is even though they are more than a thousand meters below us. After 5 days we sailed into the pass of Suvarrow and where met by John the caretaker that guided us into the anchorage. This was the ultimate pacific island dream. Untouched and wild.

Suvarrow was made famous by Tom Neal who wrote a book about living there alone for a few years in the 70's. His book An Island To oneself became a best seller and fired many a dreamers imagination about the pacific paradise. He was not the first however. After the second world war a man with his three children moved here to seek solitude. He lived in the same WW2 barracks that Tom Neil used. Polynesians also came through this way but for some reason never settled here for more than a few weeks at the time. Tom Neil's wife spent some of her childhood here. The most intriguing temporary settlement was however a group of Spaniards. On the one island, Suvarrow has many, lime kilns has been found as well as tools from the temporary settlement. Maybe they where pirates or maybe a Spanish Galleon was shipwrecked here? The islands are close to shipping route that was known as the Manilla Run bringing large Galleons from the one continent to the next to do trade. Treasure has been found on Suvarrow at two occasions before we are told. Nobody, however, has had a look at the "Spanish" island.

Tom Neal was quite a character. In his book he portrait himself as a bachelor never once mentioning his wife and kids that stayed behind all the years he lived here in solitude. He also makes sure to take credits for buildings that was not of his doing. One note we found in his old house was asking visitors to stay off his property and not steal his chickens. He died 6 months after leaving his island paradise in 1978 of cancer.

With Tom Neal dead and buried Suvarrow was made in to a Nature Reserve by the Cook Island government. The wardens ,John and Veronica and their 4 boys, come out here to live during the season. A supply ship slows down enough for them to get off and then comes back to pick them up 6 -7 months later. Last year it did not happen according to plan. October came and went with no boat in sight. In November they were lucky to get a ride with a sailing boat on its way north to another inhabited atoll called Penhryn. From here they could take one of the monthly ships back to Rarotonga where they live. Since the supplies they bring are far less than what a family with 4 hungry boys need during the season they rely on fishing as well as gifts from the sailing boats passing by.


John and Veronica are very hospitable and where many hats. They host "pot luck" evenings the one moment and are nature guides the next. They will represent the authorities and clear you in to Cook Islands, and then initiate a jam session the next. Truly unique people.

The anchorage in Suvarrow is very much like that on any other atoll. You are surrounded by reefs and small islands called Motus. Since the lagoon might be quite big the fetch across the lagoon can be considerable. It does not provide for a relaxed comfortable anchorage. Suvarrow is however quite untouched. The sharks and the fish in the lagoon are large and plentiful. The islands uninhabited and free for all the sad signs of human activity we have found everywhere else. We found every type of fish we had seen before and then some more we have never seen. The most noticeable difference being that they were all larger and more plentiful.

Our time on Suvarrow became an action packed one. There is so much to do on a deserted island! Colin used to go ashore in the morning and disappear with the boys. They would catch crabs, fish, explore, play rugby and all the other things boys like doing. We hardly saw him. Camilla teamed up with the girls on Ruby Slippers. They spent their day knitting or doing some other craft, or building their tree hut. Veronica joined the girls and gave them lessons in weaving palm leaves into boxes and mats. 


Our first outing was already the first day there. The tide being out we could walk across from one motu to the next on the reef. Large swell from the far south ocean crashed on to the reef to our one side making the walk dramatic as well as beautiful. Small caves and dams formed in the coral housing all sorts of fish. Even the sharks where swimming around in the shallows looking for a snack.


Then there was time for a "pot luck". This is when everyone brings something to the table and we eat together. Always exciting to see what the other boats had made... Entertainment was provided by John with his guitar joined by Jim and Mark for a jam session. Colin always sees his chance to sing a couple of his self composed songs. The more popular ones are Ticks and Fleas, Toilet paper and Little Puppy. Camilla supporting and cheering him on. Then we got a dancing performance by Camilla and Colin doing the New Zealand Haka.

Lesley and Trond  Camilla and Colin doing the Haka (NZ war dance)

John and Camilla supporting Colin's Ticks and Fleas

Having the Moonrakers around means rugby on the beach. The kids got organized and the games could start. Luke and Max are great at getting a game going. It gets rough enough to be fun without causing major injuries. Camilla as well as Colin love the game. Camilla is speedy and keeps scoring. Colin likes getting his energy out through the rough and tumble part of rugby.

Colin prepping his team Camilla and Max got it all under control

Let the carnage begin! Sometimes it hurts a little...

John decided to take us for an excursion one day to see the birds. Nesting on the one island was Tropic Birds, Gannets as well as Frigate birds and Terns. So we packed the dinghies and off we went. John is concerned about the wildlife on the islands. He therefore monitors everything carefully. You are not allowed to wander off on your own and exploring islands and reefs are at his discretion. Divers must show their boat to him before and after dives. He wants to know you have returned safely as well as to see that you are adequately prepared. He also gets to have a look at what fish you cough if any. John is however aware that Suvarrow is a treasure for all to enjoy. Every week he takes cruisers out for different excursions depending on the weather. The distances can be quite large inside the lagoon and if the winds are up quite a wet ride in the dinghy.

Approaching the island Off for a walk

Birds everywhere Colins catch

In the pacific you are always on the move. You got to get to the other side by the time the cyclone season starts. The distances are enormous and there are no short cuts. So eventually we had to leave. We where low on water and food so we decided to aim for American Samoa.  Apparently the shopping was good and there...


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This site was last updated 28-08-2007 13:54:06