My Travel To Tokelau
I am a retired government worker who has an endless curiosity about the world. My background is public service and criminal law but my greatest interest is travelling. This was the first time I travelled alone uninhibited and was probably also the moment I best appreciate how travelling played an important part in my life. My 5 day tour of Tokelau was a thrilling solitary journey, exploring the little islands, the feeling of isolation, and the friendliness of the people, stayed with me up to this day.
From JFK Airport I took a flight to Apia, Samoa and from its port boarded the MV Tokelau which set off on that sunny Monday morning. Through squalls, rolling waves, and foggy horizon, we sailed forth for a day and a half to get to one of its atolls, the Fakaofo. It is the first of Tokelau’s three atolls and is dubbed as the historical capital. There are no hotels around this atoll, so I arranged for a rented room at a local host family. It has a dense population; the cargo ship supplies its 500 people of its basic necessities twice a week. Fakaofo is a chain of islands but only one is inhabited. I stayed at a traditional fale (thatched hut) surrounded by washed up broken corals. Lots of breadfruit and coconut trees provide enough shades to the huts. A separate house is used for cooking only. The stove consists of making a hole in the coral ground and burning small sticks and dried coconut husks. My family host boiled taro and made yam for our dinner that night, I joined them along as they ate raw fish.
The lagoons around Fakaofo are abundant with fishes. The lands were so tiny that the houses looked virtually squashed together. It was so close that I could reach between rooms with an outstretched hand if the windows were open. Toilets commonly called as “Tokelau telephone booths” can be found as small huts facing the seafront, there was little privacy and sanitation anywhere around. This main island is not very attractive. There is a gray feel to the place since the houses are made of concrete, and there are no beaches. Drums of kerosene are situated along its shores mostly used by the cargo ships that sail on and off this island. There isn’t any declared port around there so the ships drop anchor offshore and uses crane and manpower to transport goods. A metal dinghy serves as the form of transportation to get to the other islands.
I find it common along the Pacific that the churches are the best maintained buildings. It injects that much needed color to the village. Polynesians are deeply religious; it is evident in their singing of praises and the presence of holy images on their homes. Most of the women are into weaving handicrafts like baskets and mats, while the men are into out-rigger canoe making and fishing. I watched how they make a canoe by putting little pieces of wood that were hand shaped and manually make holes around it; a cobra string holds all the pieces together. To waterproof its seams, they use saps from a local tree. Once done a local trader comes once a week to bring their finished crafts to either New Zealand or Samoa. I saw a local Post office where the windows and doors are open, as dishonesty is rare. There is a small hospital and primary school within the community. Most food is shipped to the island, as little can be grown on its atolls.
The next day I boarded the metal dinghy to get to the second atoll, Atafu, the most gorgeous amongst the Tokelau’s islands. The lagoons are bright and lovely, but unluckily the corals are dead. This may have been caused by the many storms that pass this atoll. Walking around the village, I felt the sense of isolation and had this feel of how far I am from civilization. The ocean rocks one boundary of the island obstinately, while the whole serenity of the amazing lagoon rests on the opposite side. It is also densely populated, there wasn’t a soul to be heard or seen while I strolled along its shores.
I entered a small village and the people here were friendlier, there was a fairly decent store where I bought some snacks, drinking water, simple provisions, and some booze. Women here make woven baskets shaped from a coconut shell and Tokelau fans, these are famous throughout the Pacific as the weaving is much smaller and makes them most sought after. I photographed young boys carrying their out-rigger in the shore, and kids standing in front of their fale houses with mats or shutters that can be tied up in fine weather or rolled down in the event of rain or privacy. I also watched an old man making a “Toluma”, a fishing box where tackle is carried. These boxes are very valuable as few people can make them around now, though they are still used. The idea is that if your out-rigger tips at the sea, the box will float and the fishing tackle won’t get lost at sea. I bought a variety of colored Tokelau fans and one Toluma as souvenirs.
On the third day I boarded the metal dinghy to cross the next atoll, Nukunonu. It is the third atoll that lies opposite Sydney Island, which is owned by Mr. Luciano Perez who also owns the Luana Liki Hotel, where I stayed for the rest of my tour in Tokelau Island. He personally welcomed me to his little gem and arranged for a boat tour to get to the small islands, a two- berth tent, drinking water, and a radio to contact him, and a guide who knows where to catch lobsters. The island was uninhabited, and I learned from Mr. Perez that the other neighboring small atoll islands are owned by somebody, and we can not enter without permission. Only his island is open for visitors and locals alike. Tokelau Island is the biggest in the Nukunonu chain and is very unique in sight! It is covered in lush vegetation, and surrounded by its ever changing blue and green hues around the lagoon. The color of the waters changes gradually, it looked magical!
I visited a village where the people offered me fresh coconut drinks. Walking around I saw their Government House, where I talked with the Chief and Village Leaders at the “Meeting House”. I noticed they have solar panels installed on government and private facilities (hospital, warehouse). I passed by an Old Catholic church, and visited the Nukunonu Cemetery. This atoll is very clean; its paths are lined with palms and fine corals. Nukunonu is very attractive and colorful; it has the best snorkeling reef in Tokelau. Its lagoon boasts of rich marine life and vibrant healthy corals. The sheer color and the tranquility of the water make it more inviting. I also visited the handicraft area of Nukononu where I saw women making a Tokelauan Basket. The weaving is done around a powdered milk tin can. When the weaving is finished the tin is removed and the basket is complete. Some women make napkin holders and mats. I learned Tokelau weaving is more expensive because it is finer than those of the other islands and is not common. From there I met a fisherman who showed to me an empty shell of a giant sea turtle which he caught. Eating sea turtles are common in the remote areas of the island.
Tokelau is an unexplored paradise; it is as quiet as its serene blue waters. I am blessed to explore it.