We continued to have a very nice sail to Rarotonga and made it in under four days. This meant that we arrived at about 1:00 am, so we heaved to waiting for sunrise to enter the harbour. By 6:00am it seemed like grand central station with a cruise ship, two cargo ships and a fishing boat lined up to enter this small harbour. Luckily the port controller asked us to come in first while the others waited. Alofi harbour is not the most yacht friendly of harbours and we needed to dock Mediterranean style where you put your anchor out about three boat lengths from the concrete wharf and then back into the wharf to tie off the stern. Typically you would get close enough to put a ramp from the boat to shore to go ashore but the surge from the swells coming into the harbour meant that we were game enough to get any closer than about 8 meters from the wharf for fear of surging back into the concrete. I immediately wanted to get out of there as soon as we could!
We ended up spending three days there to do some sightseeing, load water and do provisioning. The leg 3 people jumped off of the boat and went to their Air B&B that they had arranged and Juan from legs 1 &2 re-joined along with Brianne, Grant and Greg. We spent the first day walking up the needle which is a prominent hill that ends in a cliff spire at the top. It was quite steep, muddy at times and lots of roots to clamber over. But in the end we were rewarded with a fantastic 360 degree view of the island. Then in the afternoon we took advantage of the scooters that Juan and Grant had hired to tour a round trip around the island to see the lagoon on the south east side. Whilst doing this we came across the Rarotonga version of eat street! This was a great collection of stalls that only happen on a Saturday with about 20 – 30 stalls of various cooked food. Too bad we had just had lunch before we found it….. But we still managed to eat what I can only describe as giant profiteroles! Later we had dinner at Trader Jack’s which was a restaurant/bar on the water, very nice atmosphere.
The next day was spent filling the water tanks in preparation for the next voyage. The water on Rarotonga was bore water and not generally potable. So we needed to get water from the boat yard gatehouse which had a very elaborate filtering system to make clean water. This meant that we needed to transport the water in the 3 20 litre containers about a half kilometre to the dock using the scooters which was quite a sight! Then hand the containers down into the dingy to get the remaining 8 meters to the boat and pour them into the water tanks. Luckily we only had about 500 litres to fill the 1000 litre water tank! We spent the rest of the day eating burgers for lunch and getting custom clearance to leave the next day and another night out for dinner. The morning of the following day was spent provisioning food and beer.
We set sail for Aitutaki which we had heard was the Bora Bora of the Cook Islands. We had heard that the entrance to the lagoon was too shallow for the draft of Walkabout but you could anchor outside of the pass and take the dingy in. When we got there we talked to a dive boat operator who told us that he had recently surveyed the pass and 2 meter draft could pass through of low tide. The anchorage was really untenable and did not have good holding so we decided to try to wait for high tide and go through the pass. We made three attempts and went aground with each one so turned around and sailed on to Palmerston Island.
Palmerston Island is a quite small island with a very large lagoon and is quite unique in that it was settled by an English guy named William Marsters and his three wives in 1863 and the entire population are descendants of these four people. Except currently one guy who married a Marsters woman. The people are split up into three clans one for each of the initial wives. They use this as well as going off island to find new partners to avoid in breeding. There are currently about 60 people who live on the island but well over 1000 descendants of William Marsters spread around the world.
They were very hospitable and when we arrived we were assigned a host who was Ed Marsters. Ed is the head of one of the clans as well as the island policeman. Since the pass to the lagoon is too shallow for Walkabout, quite narrow and hard to follow we tied up to a mooring outside of the lagoon and Ed would come out each morning to get us and then take us back in the afternoon. They would make us a very nice cooked lunch every day as well as help us with our laundry, provide showers etc. We stayed for four days and each day we spent exploring the island, snorkelling as well as visiting the other clans. Most of the people on the island were away in Rarotonga for the festival so while we were there, there were only 16 people on the island. The shark population was quite significant so while we snorkelled we were surrounded by grey, black and white tip reef sharks and one of the other boaties tried to spear fish but found it impossible. As soon as he speared something the sharks would swarm on it!!!
Each night Ed would take us back to the boat around 5:00 pm and would help teach us better ways to fish off the back of the boat and play the ukulele with some singing. We caught several fish while anchored there and it was always a race to get the fish onto the boat before the sharks got it and once the sharks were around you could only give up or feed the sharks with what you caught!
The people on the island have a very simple life as they subsist off of a supply ship that comes once every three months and export parrot fish which they net on the reef and various coconut products which they export to Rarotonga. The island is not very fertile but there are pigs and heaps of chickens which in normal island style just wonder everywhere.
We had a fantastic time while we were there and everyone agreed it was both a very unique experience as well as one of the best of the trip so far. The hospitality was incredible and I was glad that I could return some with giving Ed a high flow pump that I had as a spare for my deck wash so that he could use it to supply water to his house shower and sinks.
We had planned to stay another day or two but the weather shifted and gave us an opportunity to continue on so we dropped the mooring and sailed off to Beveridge Reef.