Whether you call it the gem of the Cooks or the jewel of the Cooks, Suwarrow is truly something special. We spent several days here and had our water maker been working properly we’d have spent the full fourteen allotted for a cruising yacht. The water coming through the pass is so clear you can see down more than 150 feet! This is a nice thing when you get to the anchorage too as there are lots of bommies so it’s nice to be able to see them.
The rangers, Harry and John, are two of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. They spend six months a year here at Suwarrow protecting this natural resource and assisting cruisers with checking into and out of the country. You can only visit Suwarrow between May 1 and November 1 each year. The
Arrival & Port Check In
Entering the pass into the atoll was rather straightforward and we had no issue. It was actually very overcast the day morning we arrived but our updated charts were dead on and the clarity of the water made it easy to see the coral.
Be sure not to try to cut to the west too soon after going through the pass as the the southeastern point comes out a bit further than it appears.
Be sure to fly your Quarantine flag as you arrive in the anchorage. You can try to reach the Rangers on VHF 16 but we were unable to get them. Apparently their radio had been reduced to a handheld. Once we arrived in the anchorage and were anchored we were able to reach them. We were advised to stay on board until they came to clear us in.
If you have not checked in at one of the major ports of entry in the Cook Islands you will be charged an additional fee to check in at Suwarrow. The fee is $70 NZD which, quite frankly, is a bargain to enjoy this amazing atoll. If you’re like us you’ll want a passport stamp from this incredible place. They don’t automatically do this but if you ask they will. Some have said they charge for it but that was not our experience at all. They were happy to oblige.
Other fees associated with checking into Suwarrow are as follows:
- Departure Fee: NZD $75/pp (children under 12 exempt).
- Customs Fee: NZD $57
- Health Fees: NZD $25 on weekdays / NZ$ 40 on weekends.
- Bio Inspector: NZD $20
You will need cash to check in here. Be sure you have New Zealand currency and have exact change if possible.
Note: They are going to spray the interior of your boat with some sort of fogging type insecticide. They state that it is non-toxic but I’d put my fruit and vegetables in a place where it’s not likely to land on them. The good news is we didn’t have any bugs on board while we were there!
Be extra careful when anchoring here as bommies are everywhere. The good news is the water is extremely clear so you can see them but if you anchor in deep water you may find yourself wrapped tightly when you go try to pull up. The day we left another boat that was anchored in 25 meters of water found themselves stuck on the bommies. They did not have dive tanks on board. Fortunately we had the only dive tanks in the anchorage at the time and Dan was able to go down and get them released. It turns out they weren’t just stuck, they were completely wrapped around large bommie. It took Dan quite a while to get them unwrapped so they could retrieve their anchor.
If you anchor in the shallower waters you have the ability to have a snorkeler in the water to assist you in unwrapping your chain if necessary. Forntuately for Dazzler this was not a problem. We anchored in 8-10 meters in an area with the least amount of bommies. We floated our chain with a buoy to keep it above the few bommies that we were around us. Our anchor came up without issue but be prepared just in case yours does not. Of the 7 boats there that left the day we did, there was only one other boat that left without issue.
Things To See And Do
Suwarrow is really all about enjoying the remoteness and beauty, hanging with other cruisers and just relaxing. Cruisers all tend to go to shore for sundowners each evening. Sometimes there are potlucks and other times cruisers bring their instruments and play a little island music for the group.
There are lots of great snorkeling and diving spots but you need to check with the Rangers as to where you are allowed to go. We never got too far from the main anchorage and still saw beautiful coral and lots of fish. There is a manta ray cleaning station just south of the anchorage where you may get a chance to see some of these incredible beauties. It’s noted by white buoys and the Rangers can show you exactly where it is located. Be prepared to anchor your dinghy in 7-10 meters of water here. We didn’t see any rays but there were lots of beautiful fish and coral.
On the northwest side of the anchorage there is a great spot to snorkel. During high tide the water actually comes over parts of the land here so the current can be a bit rough at those times. We loved snorkeling here and even saw a couple of large gray sharks.
You will be warned by the Rangers not to snorkel on the outside of the northern edge of the reef. They call this area “Shark Bay” and for good reason. This is where the rangers clean their fish and dispose of leftover food items. The shark literally come there waiting to be fed. We walked through the Ranger camp to this side of the atoll and when our feet were literally just barely in the water dozens of Black Tips, White Tips and Grays came surfing in on the waves. None were very big but they all have teeth and were headed right toward our feet!
Explore The Beaches
We spent an entire day just exploring on the dinghy and walking the beautiful beaches here. Hermit Crabs are literally everywhere! At dawn and dusk you can barely walk without stepping on one.
Coconut crabs are also abundant here. You are not able to harvest them however the Rangers may harvest a few to share with you for a potluck.
You can fish here but you need to check with the Rangers as to where you are allowed to fish. This changes depending upon what areas they are working to protect at any given time. Also, lobster harvesting, at least when we were here is strictly prohibited.