17 July 2009 | South Pacific Ocean
Heck with French Polynesia, this is as close to an untouched paradise as we have seen.
Suwarrow Atoll is a Cook Island national park. The atoll is uninhabited other than the caretaker, his wife, and their four boys who live on a small island inside the pass for 6 months a year. Right now there is a handful of cruisers from all over the world; France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, and three boats from Seattle.
I don't know where to start to describe our experience here, but this is the first time that I have felt like a crazy vacationer trying to see and do everything at an amazingly exotic location. We spent the first of our allowed two weeks at the authorized anchorage snorkeling and exploring while Timothy went completely native with the local boys. Every day after school, they have taken him fishing and diving in the lagoon; or chasing huge coconut crabs and feeding sharks from their island. Speaking of sharks, there are lots and lots of sharks. As soon as we had the anchor down we were greeted by three friendly blacktips that just wanted to check us out. Sharks accompany us on almost every snorkel, they swim right at your feet while wading in the shallows, and big and little sharks do their best to eat all the fish you catch before you can get them into the boat. The family is trying to train the larger grey sharks to stay outside their island by throwing all their fish scraps into the pass and not into the lagoon. You can tell which boats were not following the rules by the handful of sharks living under their boat. We are still wary, but have grown accustomed to these creepy but very beautiful visitors.
It has been quite windy and together with our friends on Daydream, we asked the caretaker if we could move the boats to the far end of the atoll to be more sheltered from a predicted front from the south. The park manager does not typically allow cruising boats here unless there is risk to the boats, but we were persuasive. We are now sheltered behind a small sandy motu, surrounded by coral heads, held securely in place (we hope) with two anchors. It is blowing 20 - 30 knots and we are listening to the radio chatter as most of the fleet in the main anchorage is dragging anchor and pitching miserably in a 5' breaking chop.
The real upside to moving was a chance to experience this end of the atoll. We stumbled into an aquatic paradise! I would need a thousand pictures to do it justice, and at a thousand words per picture there is no hope. What we have dubbed "the pool" is a pristine reef shaped like a giant two sided climbing wall stretching from next to the boat for nearly a mile towards the edge of the lagoon. Vertical walls of vibrantly colored exotic and delicate coral drop from just below the surface to the sandy bottom 50'down. The water is crystal clear with 100' plus visibility and the sun glints on sprays of coral so delicate that gentle touches shatter them; huge corals with giant convoluted branches form shaded grottos and dark caves. We found warm underwater lagoons that feel like you swam into in a giant aquarium in the dentist's office. The fish are so tame you can and almost touch them (they are just screaming "eat me"), clouds of tropical fish, huge groupers and coral trout, giant parrot fish and of course our friends - stately sharks swimming below.
Swimming away from the reef wall, it opens up into a surreal landscape of giant spires of coral - convoluted stalagmites reaching towards the surface with long scepters and delicate crowns and crazy cactus like arms. It is a Disney-esq scene that we have only started to explore. Each day we snorkel until everyone is exhausted, and then just a little more.
When we were too tired to swim, we explored the island. Again, where to start - finding a 10' section of vertebrae from an enormous whale, beautiful fluffy tropical birds nesting on the ground at our feet, dozens of alien looking coconut crabs, collecting gorgeous shells, eating fresh coconuts on the beach in the shade. Wow!
Now if you were to be in a national park out of sight of the warden and he had suggested that if you were to catch a lobster or two it would probably be ok, what would you do? Hmmm, let's wait until it is really dark, row ashore with flashlights, walk on a wave washed coral reef at the edge of a mile deep drop-off into the Pacific, and look for lobsters. Now that sounds like a great idea! Wayne took quite a bit of convincing, but the lure of lobster was too strong. The darn things crawl right up onto the reef at night and you can spot them in the shallows and just grab them and stuff them in the bag. Since it is against the park rules, I will not admit to doing exactly that, but what a haul we had. Last night, we feasted on fresh lobster tails with garlic butter until none of us could move.
Today we are hunkered down, waiting for the wind to drop so that we can do it all again. I can't wait.