After a very rolly downwind sail from Rarotonga with my all too familiar sea-sickness making its usual appearance, Palmerston was an extremely welcomed sight. We had heard through the grapevine that mooring buoys were available for cruising yachts and we were happy to find that the rumours were indeed true. Although only 49 people live on this atoll, their reputation for being a friendly and welcoming community seems to have made its way to the cruising world and annual visits from yachts are on a steady increase. The moorings are owned by the locals and are charged out at a meagre NZ$10 per day. Having said that, if you get in touch with the locals beforehand and bring with you some pre-ordered supplies from more built-up islands in the Cooks then this fee is usually waived. What’s more is that the usual fees charged by the other Cook Islands seems to be vastly reduced here and contrary to many online sources, it is in fact possible to clear into the Cook Islands in Palmerston even though it’s not an official ‘port of entry’.
Whatever charges are made to cruisers visiting this atoll are more than made up for by the experience you get at this incredibly exceptional place. Each cruising boat is hosted by one of the three families who live on the atoll. A family member will come and collect you from the mooring each day and return you at a mutually agreed time (NB the locals are very laid back and ‘Palmerston time’ often ended up being an hour or two later than prior arrangement). The pass to get into the atoll can very treacherous. It’s not exactly a straight line and with strong currents and a shallow depth creating sizable chop, it was definitely best to leave our fate in the hands of the locals and their strong aluminium runabouts rather than our own dinghy of questionable stability.
The host families are just amazing. As well as giving us dinghy rides to and from our boats every day, they really made us feel like we were part of the family. Each day we were invited to eat with them and enjoy the local cuisine. They showed us around their island and seemed to take great pleasure in explaining their history and their way of life. We were introduced to the entire community and I’m pretty sure we had met every person living on Palmerston by the end of our visit, including the pets – although remembering all their names was another matter! We were invited to a continuous stream of activities and celebrations so that even in a place as small and isolated as this, there was always something fun to do. In the short time we were there we found ourselves involved with school parties, craft making, volleyball games, family reunions and even a funeral. We met some awesome people here. The locals are all wonderful characters and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. We also met a number of migrants from the US, New Zealand and South Africa who were staying long term on the island either to work or on an extended holiday. It was great to meet people from similar cultures and backgrounds to me who don’t have a sailing background. Not that I have anything against sailors of course (I am one after all) but it’s nice to be able to talk about things other than boats from time to time.
Anyway, back to Palmerston. The history of this place is very interesting and the locals are very proud to tell the story. The atoll had no human population until 1863, when a promiscuous Englishman called William Marsters arrived with his three Polynesian wives. He divided the island into three areas and gave each of his wives one of these areas to live and create a home. He produced 21 children during his time on Palmerston and lived to a ripe old age of 78, not quite seeing in the 20th century. In the present day, each of the three families on Palmerston is descended from one of the three wives and, of course, William himself – everyone living on this idyllic island is a Marsters. Each respective family will tell you that it is their family who are descended from the ‘main’ wife and that the other two families are descended from concubines. I guess William was very good at making each wife feel ‘special’.
Our visit happened to coincide with a visit from about 30 Marsters family members who live in New Zealand and other places outside of Palmerston. They had come together to visit Palmerston as a family and it was the first time they had all been together on the atoll in about 30 years, so it was a big honour for us to be part of this momentous reunion. Their visit was a bitter sweet event as although they were able to enjoy this paradise island as a family, they were also there to scatter the ashes of a deceased loved one who wanted to be laid to rest in his place of origin. In the usual fashion we were invited to attend all the events held by the family during their stay, including the funeral itself. Funerals are usually sad occasions but as the death of the elder was some years previously, the day was more about celebrating his life rather than to mourn. We learned that his name was Sunny and heard many wonderful stories about him throughout the day. We felt like we had a better insight into the person this day was dedicated to and we got to know even more of the family who, just like the residents of Palmeston, are just as friendly and welcoming as ever. Of course we also made new cruising friends and ran into old ones. Our friends from a gorgeous, modern and very shiny catamaran called Cheeky Monkey arrived with a freshly caught tuna and cold beers on our second night – we gladly helped to consume them. The boat is currently crewed by three very interesting men: an Israeli hipster who is an ex-second commander of a missile ship and has vowed to not shave his beard until he reaches the end of his Pacific crossing, an optimistic American extravert who also happens to be a very fine male specimen* and the owner – an astute, opinionated Englishman who also happens to be one of the most good natured and motivational people I’ve met on this trip. Part of his voyage is to film a documentary about all the interesting and remote islands he’s visited during his voyage. He apparently already has a very popular YouTube channel with blogs of his journey prior to his current crew which, unfortunately, we’ve not had the pleasure of viewing due to very slow internet – but given his reputation I’m sure he’ll produce a documentary well worth watching. Look up Cheek Monkey on YouTube and check it out if you’re interested.
After an amazing week in Palmerston we set sail once again for the most remote place we’ve visited yet – Beveridge Reef…
Here are a few more pics from this wonderful atoll
*As pointed out by Alex
I appear to have had a complete lack of discipline and motivation when it comes to keeping my blog posts up-to-date over the past few months, for this I apologise. Upon arriving in Tahiti back in May I spent most of my time totally overcome by all the development and I was very pre-occupied enjoying all the supermarkets, fast food joints, restaurants, shops and bars. It had been 14 months since I had been in a city and I think I went a little stir crazy from the metropolis.
As built-up as it was, Tahiti certainly had its own natural beauty and the island had wonderful snorkelling, trekking and points of interest to visit. If you’re a cruising sailor thinking of bypassing Tahiti because it’s ‘too developed’ I think you would be missing out.
After a few rigging problems we had to sort out in our final weeks in French Polynesia, we finally made it to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and have been enjoying a fabulous week in this bustling, scenic, ENGLISH-speaking island! As communication is no longer a problem, we’ve managed to get more done in one week here than in one month in French Polynesia. We managed to get a temporary driving licence and rent a scooter; do a circuit of the island; play mini golf; do a cross-island trek; visit the whale & wildlife centre; find our favourite bars across the island and get a whole host of boat jobs done. We even helped with a mountain rescue!
I say a ‘mountain rescue’ but it wasn’t quite that dramatic, although it was close to being a very serious event for the lady involved. Towards the end of our hike across we caught up with a lady and her husband. They were obviously making slow progress and the lady was frequently falling over and said she felt very weak in her legs. They asked if we had any snacks we could give them in the hope that some sugar would give her some energy. Unfortunately we didn’t, but we knew there were a number of people also doing the trek who weren’t far behind them and who might be able to help. Despite their predicament they seemed in good spirits so we bid them farewell and moved on. Further down the path we came across some coconut trees, so being a Good Samaritan Alex decided to run back to the couple with some coconut in the hope that it might help. It turned out that other people had passed them and had also given various fruits and energy bars to the lady, but unfortunately it didn’t seem to be helping. Now, the lady had almost lost the use of her legs entirely and was going completely hysterical – it was starting to get dark, the track was very difficult in places and she was, understandably, very scared.
Alex offered to get help and immediately came running back to the car park where I was waiting with the scooter. The couple were only 20 minutes from the end of the trek, but in her condition it was just impossible for her to make any progress. Moreover, the car park itself was still some way up the mountain and there was no phone signal there and they didn’t have any transport waiting for them even if they could get back to the car park. So we sped down the road on our little scooter to an area with more people and found a lovely local gentleman who called the police and mountain rescue service for us. Alex and I waited at the entrance for the various teams to show up. It took a nail-biting 45 minutes before the police eventually showed up and we made our way back up to the car park and to the entrance of the trek, but we were still waiting for the extraction team. By now it was well over an hour since Alex had left the couple and it was almost dark. Just then, we heard voices coming from the darkness of the trail and the police went to investigate. Thankfully it turned out to be the lady and her husband reaching the end of the trek. She was covered in mud and seemed a little ‘off’ – almost like she was drunk and not thinking clearly, but at least she appeared to have regained the use of her legs. It turned out that 5 minutes after Alex had left them she started to go delirious, speaking incomprehensible German and Latin and foaming at the mouth before going completely unconscious for a further 50 minutes! Her husband must have been going out of his mind with worry. Then, out of nowhere, she suddenly regained consciousness and had an unexpected burst of energy and was able to finish the trek in not much time at all.
She was obviously feeling much better and it’s wonderful that she could make it down the mountain without help from an extraction team. Perhaps it was a mineral deficiency, or perhaps extreme exhaustion, but she was on the up and that’s what was important. Despite the extreme events that had just happened to her, despite the fact that she still didn’t seem completely coherent and despite everybody’s strong recommendations the couple refused to go to the hospital to get checked out. We waved them goodbye as the police drove them back to their hotel where I sincerely hope she was able to eat something, get a nice hot bath and a long restful sleep. Hopefully she is now happy and healthy and was back to her normal self the following day, although I would have felt much better if she had been checkout out by a medical professional at the hospital.
Alex was absolutely amazing throughout this whole ordeal. He was calm, efficient and very professional. He clearly still remembers all of his medical first responder training and it gives me a lot of confidence to know that I am in the best possible hands if we ever have an emergency (which fingers crossed we never will).
So, after an exciting week we are now ready to leave Rarotonga for Palmerston (a secluded atoll with only 50 or so inhabitants). We’ll be leaving today with the hope of arriving in 2 days time and will update you on our adventures as soon as we can.