Published: June 20th 2008May 28th 2008
(Note: Suwarrow is the tiny dot in the centre, marked by the middle yellow pin)
In Bora Bora they have tamed Manta Rays that will eat out of the palm of your hand. Hundreds of technicoloured reef fish loiter under your hut's glass floor (lured by the nutritious raw sewage of your toilet which flushes directly into the lagoon). You can buy black pearls at a boutique in town and there's high speed Internet any time you want it. It's paradise!
So why did I feel the need to escape?
My escape route took me 1300 kilometres downwind from the hustle and bustle of Tahiti and Bora Bora. At the end lay an uninhabited island with buried treasure. It was the legendary atoll of Suwarrow of the Cook Islands.
Suwarrow was officially discovered by a Russian explorer in 1814, but excavations uncovered evidence of visits from swash-buckling Europeans from possibly as early as the late 1500s. Stone walls, kilns, a musket, gold "pieces of eight" and a skeleton holding an iron bolt have been recovered from Anchorage Island. As well, a shipwreck salvaged on the reef was found to contain a chest of coins worth $15,000. "To me Anchorage Island was alive with memories of men who had lived in her fastness, had dug gold, weighed pearls, loved native women, caroused,
fought, and died. Now Time and the Jungle had claimed Suvarov.. now only memories of the old days remained."
- Robert Dean Frisbie (inhabited Suwarrow with his children in 1942)
Since that time Suwarrow has only been inhabited by a handful of people; people that came searching for the edge of the world where the human trail ran thin and the flood turned back into a trickle. To me.. the island was not an adventure, it was something infinitely bigger.. a whole way of life."
- Tom Neale (lived as a hermit on Suwarrow intermittantly from 1952-77)
But the floodgates are bulging and always threatening to burst: "Before the year is out I will clear away the jungle, build houses, and establish the most unique tourist resort in the world! Instead of a sanctuary for birds, crabs, and turtles it will be a sanctuary for sun-hungry white men from New Zealand, London, New York!"
- Captain Prospect, Island of Desire (delivered
Frisbie to Suwarrow in 1942)
Suwarrow is now a national park of the Cook Islands. It still doesn't have golf courses, glass-floored huts or honeymooners paying $1000 a night for the view. Any tame Manta Rays got eaten by sharks.
Suwarrow is not paradise
; it is uncensored and untamed nature in the heart of the Pacific wilderness.
For the time being, there is no price tag on a Suwarrow sunset. The sight of the sun setting over Suwarrow's outer reef, turning the lagoon waters into millions of dancing, glittering diamonds will cost you something entirely different.
The price is time. You pay with a little chunk of your life. "Welcome to Suwarrow! Want some fish?"
- John & Veronica Samuela (current caretakers of Suwarrow)
Every summer, a cargo ship drops John, Veronica and their 4 children off with supplies for their 6-month stay to oversee the management of the parkland. While sitting on John and Veronica's patio, munching on freshly speared fish and pancakes made from coconut sprouts, I learned about what life is like for their family on an uninhabited atoll in the middle of the Pacific
Up the Mast
Highest person in a 1000 km radius. Yes Matt, I thought my heart was going to explode.
Ocean - and how hard it is for them to tear themselves away when the hurricane season begins and the cargo ship returns to pick them up. The coral waxes, the palm grows, the inukshuk crumbles.
Suwarrow was very symbolic for me for the reason that it lies right at the edge of the floodwaters. I felt like I had left the human trail - even for just a few steps - and looking over my shoulder, I watched the waves quickly wash away the footprints I had left behind.
So I did what I always do when I get that feeling; I built an inukshuk. It might only last until the next hurricane, but for a brief history in time, it existed in a very special place in the world.
Later, while snorkeling with Suwarrow's untamed sharks, I thought about the whole idea of tamed Manta Rays in paradise. Comparing the vast contrasts between Bora Bora and Suwarrow all boiled down to one thing: the price you pay to experience either.
Stepping out of the floodwaters and discovering a place off the beaten track can offer huge rewards, and often the biggest cost
is time, not money. Those who understand the true value of time and never regret how they've spent it are quite possibly the richest people in the world.
There are more photos below