I’m not sure where to begin here as the last five days have been exceptionally trying from a traveler perspective and a lot has happened; but in fact very little has happened. Let me try to clarify what that means and talk about my disorganized, botched, delayed, misled, trying, grueling, shocking and ultimately exhausting and relatively unfulfilling expedition to Tokelau.
I booked this trip direct with this Kiwi guy named Graham out of the Cook Islands who runs a company called Pacific Expeditions. He essentially is a middle man between the passengers and the boat as he in theory works with boat captains. In my case it was the SV Southern Cross. I had heard nothing but awful things about dealing with this man. His name has been bad throughout the travel world and the Pacific but people had needed him because there was only one ship that went to Tokelau and also to another small island that is very remote called Pitcairn. He was explained to be a guy who has had complaint after complaint filed against him and his business practices. I had and have heard this from several sources.
In fact, as the story goes, I was in Samoa staying at a cheap hotel with no AC and plenty of cockroaches called the Seaside Inn as it was located very close to the marina and some restaurants. So my plan was to spend 2 nights there and then head out on the boat the morning of June 9th-14th with a side excursion to a place called Swains Island which is how the trip was advertised and how I was explained over the phone and emailed how the trip would go. Swains is a very remote island than very few people have been to and it is a big draw to travelers such as myself. Of course the main draw was Tokelau as it is one of the hardest TCC countries to visit.
The night before I was set to leave I started chatting with an older Dutch guy staying at my hotel and he had just gotten off the Southern Cross a week prior as he was supposed to do a trip to the Line/Phoenix Islands. I was surprised. Apparently, the engine on the Southern Cross gave out and they were forced to go to Tokelau for a few days. After they had paid nearly $4000 each for just the boat portion of the trip, never mind the flights getting to Samoa, they were forced to take a cargo ferry back from Tokelau because of the poor condition of the Southern Cross and pay NZ$278 out of pocket.
So the Dutch guy is telling me horror stories about the boats condition and pointed out to me that it had been anchored in Apia (Samoa) harbor for a week. Mind you, I was never notified there was an issue with the boat and that the trip would certainly be delayed if not cancelled. So I asked if the Dutch guy had contacted Graham and the Dutch man started ranting and raving about what a con man, crook and assorted other not kind words he was. I was starting to get nervous because of the warnings I had heard about Graham and his company before hand from some of the world’s foremost travelers. Anyway, I went to bed and decided to hope he was wrong and not be pissed until I heard for myself because if there was a problem I was sure we would have heard by now as we were to leave the next morning.
So I wake up around 8 to meet the boat at 10 to head out. I checked email and I had an email from Graham received at 7am saying there was a problem with the boat and it may not go out. So I am pissed initially because he knew about the problems a week earlier and didn’t notify anyone. This is bad and completely inconsiderate because some of the 7 people came down to Samoa specifically just for the Tokelau boat. People like me who were already down here, had essentially planned their whole trips around this one Tokelau trip and some notice of the impending delay or cancellation would have been appropriate so people could’ve made alternative arrangements because this whole trip was geared to be done Monday as we were told initially. This was so people could catch their connections out Monday night to LA, Auckland or Fiji. So this pissed everyone off a lot.
Needless to say the boat didn’t go off the 9th and all subsequent emails to Graham were not immediately returned although he knew everyone would be freaking out. Mind you, he always responded immediately when I was thinking of booking the trip and about sending him the money or credit card. Any emails regarding refunds or any change were not even addressed.
The bottom line is this regarding him and his company from what I have been told by the ship captain and others. He essentially runs a Ponzi Scheme with these. He takes the money for trips in the future and spends the money now. He neglects to adequately and timely fund his ship captains who loathe him and he offers no customer service and seemingly has no recourse as he is hidden away on the Cook Islands. Now that his contract with the Southern Cross is up, he will no longer have a consistent business unless he can get some other ship into taking the routes. That’s doubtful as they have a tough time breaking even at all even without splitting percentages and certainly if they asked the Southern Cross for a recommendation or any customers they would not good a good one. So when Southern Cross starts operating independently to Pitcairn it will be without the services of Graham. People who mistreat people, both customers and the captains, do not deserve any business and I hope nobody will ever book with Pacific Expeditions.
I volunteered to write this on behalf of the people supposed to be on my boat. One other thing, the Southern Cross can fit 5 passengers, 6 if there is a couple because there is one bed big enough for 2 although incredibly uncomfortable. We had seven booked and no couples so it would have been a complete nightmare on top of the nightmare that already was with the delay. Luckily, for those of us that sailed, 3 people dropped out because of anger toward Graham, Pacific Expeditions and the situation that had ensued. We were not guaranteed of making it back Monday for our connections and even if we made it to Tokelau, we would only have 2 hours maximum on the island we paid $1900 each to visit.
Swains is another story and something that we were completely lied to about. Swains was advertised as a stop for 4 hours on the tour and I spoke with Graham about it personally on Skype and he said he had this deal worked out and we would definitely land on it etc. When I asked Paul, the very nice and experienced captain of the Southern Cross, he said he had never been told a stop at Swains was even an option and we would certainly not be going. This lie was the breaking point for many and some people just dropped then and decided to try to recoup their money back. Non-performance and lying to customers is a serious offense and again, I hope nobody ever books with Pacific Expeditions in the future.
Now to the actual trip.
So as not to sound too angry or frustrated, I will sum up the 45 hour bouncy and stormy trip to Tokelau as so…I spent the first night puking from seasickness and the second day I was fine. We hit strong headwinds the third day and arrived late at Tokelau at 6:20pm. We got off the main yacht onto the small dinghy to go ashore. When we arrived, the “immigration officer” waiting for us told us to go home because we arrived after 6pm and Graham had guaranteed our arrival apparently and the guy on Tokelau dislikes Graham too so he decided to take it out on us.
Naturally, we were pissed as we had taken two days of hellish sailing and all the anguish to get there and this man named Zak is telling us to go home and he cannot let us on the island. Long story short, we talked our way on for 20 minutes but he wouldn’t let us walk the village or the island and we had to stay at some port tent thing where we landed. He actually told us we were “worthless to him” because they weren’t making money off of us because we weren’t staying the night. The original plan was we would spend one or two nights before the delay.
Zak (I have a picture but for some reason it won’t upload) was a serious dick and was clearly trying to show his island authority and refused to stamp our passports. We tried to reason with him and he just kept telling us to take it up with Graham etc. Finally, the nicest man ever and one of our passengers, Steve, talked him into giving us stamps and we would go. So we followed him up to his office and he begrudgingly stamped our passports. We all nicely and appreciatively said thanks. He then demanded NZ$20 from each of us. In order to get the hell out of there and avoid further conflict we paid and left in shock and disbelief. What a shakedown and I am still pissed about it!
Honestly, all he had to do was smile, say hello and be nice and this could have all been avoided as we were so happy to have made it after 2 days on water, especially given the circumstances. But Zak chose to be a real dick and we all have extremely negative feelings toward Zak, Tokelau and of course Graham and Pacific Expeditions.
So basically, for $1900, we got lied to by Graham and treated like shit by Zak on Tokelau where we spent a whole hour and a half where most, if not all time was spent pissed off at Zak and Graham and trying to convince Zak to let us on the island. Oh yeah, plus the shakedown. It’s unfortunate because as you can see from some of these pictures, the people and the kids were awesome and made us feel welcome.
Then we had the privilege of turning around and going 39 hours back to Samoa and waiting for customs for two more hours as they took their sweet time. Luckily we got to shower at the marina while we waited because after 5 days on that boat in deplorable conditions, we needed it.
I am here now in Fiji which I love to relax, sleep and chill out. I am very happy to be out of both Samoa and American Samoa-neither of which I enjoyed although perhaps I associate them with the frustration of the situation but that happens sometimes. I wanted Tokelau to be a special trip. However, the only things I realized are that seasickness is all mental and you get over it quickly; I can handle a 5 day boat trip again for when I do Pitcairn and others at some point; there is really nothing to do on a small yacht in the middle of the ocean; and that my three co-passengers were extremely interesting and very well traveled. I guess you would expect that for a trip to Tokelau.
However, this story about Pacific Expeditions and the way they handled this situation and so many others needs to be told. Think twice and three times about booking with them. I hope I can get my money back. When the Southern Cross does go solo later this year, book with them directly as Chrissy and Paul are awesome. The boat certainly isn’t perfect, clean (Chrissy don’t be mad at me!) or even that nice so go with your eyes open (don’t believe the misleading luxury looking pictures on the PE website-another example of Graham misleading us) and try to grasp the vastness of the Pacific Ocean because it is a special place.