From Rarotonga to paradise – a trip of a lifetime

Saturday 8 May 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Features, Weekend


From Rarotonga to paradise – a trip of a lifetime
A local woman from Penrhyn weaving a hat outside her doorstep. SUPPLIED/21050623

Seven hundred and forty nautical miles, or 1460 kilometres, and an estimated 96-hour sea voyage away from Rarotonga lies the island of Penrhyn, also known as Tongareva. With a population of approximately 218 people, and an array of uninhabited motu’s (smaller islands) spread out across its lagoons, Penrhyn continues to remain one of Earth’s best kept secrets. Nobby Clark, fisherman and owner of fishing charter boat Marlin Queen, recounts his recent visit to the Northern Group island.

On Friday April 9, I went to Avatiu Harbour to have a beer with the local boys and I got talking with Irakau William (Willie), one of the crew on the MV Taunga Nui. He said on that Sunday they would be sailing to Penrhyn to deliver essential supplies for the two cyclone shelters being built on the island. He said to me, ‘Why don’t you come along,’ as Penrhyn is his home island. I thought about it for a split second and thought ‘Why not,’ as we had not yet got a confirmed date for the travel bubble with New Zealand. I called Malcolm Sword from the Cook Islands General Transport and he said he was pretty sure they had a spare berth (a bed on a boat), but that he would check with the captain and let me know the following day.

The next morning, Saturday, April 10 at 9am Malcolm called and said there was a spare berth departing Sunday, April 11 at 1pm. He informed me that since I was going to the Northern Group it was mandatory to have a pre departure Covid test. I had no problem with that and went straight to Tupapa Clinic. Within five minutes of arriving there, my Covid test was done and I was clear to go. My only slight hesitation about going away for 14 days was who was going to look after my dog and best friend, ‘Magic.’ A couple of phone calls were made and arrangements were soon sorted. My captain Katoa Piniata and Jason and Jamie Horn from JJ’s Retreat took the responsibility of looking after Magic.

MV Taunga Nui docking in Penrhyn after a four-day voyage. SUPPLIED/21050609

I had a bit of a sleepless night that Saturday thinking of my up and coming adventure on Sunday morning. I packed my bag which didn’t take long and down to the wharf I went at 12:30pm for a 1pm departure. I was shown to my cabin, a six-berth air-conditioned cabin shared with two crew members, Willie and Teone Williams. Back up on deck the other eight passengers for the voyage north arrived with family and friends standing on the dock to say goodbye.

After a blessing and a prayer wishing us safe travels and a bon voyage, the lines were cast and we departed Avatiu wharf bound for Penrhyn. With nine passengers on board along with 300 tonnes of cargo it would be four days before we saw land again. On board were Pastor Joe Tinirau and his wife Repeta Tinirau. Joe has been studying religion at the Theological College in Rarotonga for the past four years and had not been back to Penrhyn for 18 years. Also onboard were Patauiri and Ukura Rongo and their four children. Ukura’s father is the Pastor in Penrhyn and I believe it is the first time any of them have visited the island, as well as their first time ever on a ship. The four days at sea passed quickly with water depths of up to 5000 metres, crystal starlit skies at night and bright sunny days.

We arrived at Omoka at 9am on Thursday morning to be warmly welcomed by the locals. All the passengers were presented with ei’s and a welcome prayer. The week was spent mixing and eating with the locals, fishing, collecting utu, catching feral pigs and having BBQ’s on completely uninhabited motu’s. These people literally live off the land and the ocean. There is only one small shop which is basically a room in a house that stocks the essential supplies.

Sunday was a very special day. I was invited to attend the Betela Church, built in 1904 and the service was conducted by Pastor Joe Tinirau. What an amazing and emotional experience this was with the hymns, prayers and Pastor Joe’s sermon. As I was leaving, I noticed a plaque outside, which was donated by St Andrew’s Church in Otahuhu, New Zealand. I lived in Otahuhu for 25 years and both of my boys, Troy and Tyler attended St Andrews preschool and church, so to see that plaque on the more northern island in the Cook Islands was quite mind blowing.

New friends from Penrhyn. SUPPLIED/21050701

For me personally, the trip was an experience of a lifetime. I feel so privileged to be given this opportunity, especially as during the past year the world has been in lockdown and unable to travel due to Covid-19. The people in Penrhyn due to their remote location, literally live off of the land and sea, have open hearts, huge smiles, accept you as one of the family and live for the Lord.

Sadly, it was time to leave, and the local Pastor, along with a lot of locals arrived at the wharf. They burst into song and prayers, wishing us a safe voyage. The Mayor presented me with an amazing Sei Puka Hatu, which I will treasure.

There are a few people I would like to thank for making this such an amazing experience. First and foremost, the people in Penrhyn for their warm hospitality, great food and lots of laughs. A young man named Patrick, who I called the ‘Crocodile Dundee of Penrhyn’. Pastor Joe, who is my Cook Islands brother, along with his family. Also, the crew on the MV Taunga Nui who go above and beyond their duties to ensure a safe passage and three meals a day. Finally, to Malcolm Sword, and the Cook Islands General Transport – thank you for the opportunity to experience a trip of a lifetime. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Te Atua te Aroha,

Nobby Clark,

Marlin Queen

Trip Review: 11/10