Suwarrow is summer camp for cruisers. It is a place where many people experience their “first times” with many living off the land activities such as coconut crab hunting, coconut husking and grating, green coconut opening, etc. Having experienced those activities in French Polynesia, we were looking forward to the other reasons to visit Suwarrow – beautiful snorkeling and fun parties. We were not disappointed.
We expected Suwarrow to look just like a remote atoll in the Tuamotus and it did. It is, after all, another atoll in much the same reason.
The snorkeling was really excellent. We went on two of the expeditions, run by the park rangers and conducted with their aluminum runabout. On one we visited a bird nesting colony (loud, moderately interesting) and then snorkeled in the pillars near Seven Islands. This area has multiple reefs that you can swim between with many pass throughs and pass overs. Nice healthy coral on the leeward side and even on the windward side despite the fact that the Cooks get pounded by hurricanes. Many, many fish.
On the second we snorkeled at Perfect Reef which is a large reef that you can snorkel on top with depths in the 15 or so foot range, snorkel the edge where the reef comes up to the 10 or so foot range, or snorkel on the edge of the reef where the coral is vibrant and drops off into the deep blue watery depths. We did all of the above. Next we went to Lewin Reef which had a very nice edge/drop off. Both were worthwhile but I preferred Perfect Reef to Lewin.
We met a lot of great people at Suwarrow. At one point there were at least 4 Victoria BC boats in the anchorage (Estrellita, Ladybug, Picara and Sea Turtle) and at one point there were 32 boats in the anchorage which the rangers said was a season high and probably an all time high.
The problem with Suwarrow is finding a good place to anchor. There is a lot of sand but a lot of tall coral heads to get caught on. The wind is a little switchy and the motu only offers protection to a small number of boats and no protection if the wind veers to far to the South.
Still, we think that the best time to be in Suwarrow would either be 20 years ago when you could be the only boat, OR now with 30 other boats. Once you no longer have the island to yourself, you might as well make it more the merrier and enjoy the rich socializing and mix of different nationalities. Of course, we lucked out and snuck into the front row good part of the anchorage snagging the spot of a recently departed vessel.
A note: everything on Suwarrow is organized by the cruisers. If you want an expedition, get 10 people and talk to the ranger. If you want a potluck ashore, hail the anchorage. If you want the rangers to talk about Cook Islander culture, ask them. Also, don’t forget to invite the rangers to eat with you at the potluck.
If you haven’t read “An Island to Oneself” by Tom Neale, it is quite a good read. I read it on passage to Suwarrow and it was nice to arrive with it fresh in mind. The book is about Tom Neale’s stay, by himself, on Anchorage Island in what was then called Suvarov. Factoid: Suvarov was the name of the ship of the whitey who stumbled upon the place first. The Cook Islander native language did not have a v-sound and so Suvarov was pronounced Suwarrow by the locals. When the Cook Islands became a nation they officially changed the spelling. Now Cook Islanders speak English as well as Cook Islander Maori and can pronounce the v-sound, but despite much confusion amongst us cruisers, the current name of the island is Suwarrow.
More pictures of Anchorage Island: