The Tokelau Expedition

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 a company called PE. PE essentially is a middle man between the passengers and the boat and in theory works with boat captains. In my case it was the SV Southern Cross. I had heard awful things about dealing with this company but people had needed them because there was only one ship that went to Tokelau and also to another small island that is very remote called Pitcairn. I had heard this from several sources beforehand so of course some of the blame is on me for not listening.

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 that 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 PE and the Dutch man started ranting and raving about them. I was starting to get nervous because of the warnings I had heard about them 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 PE received at 7am saying there was a problem with the boat and it may not go out. So I am pissed initially because they knew about the problems a week earlier and didn’t notify anyone. This is inconsiderate because some of the 7 people came down to Samoa specifically just for the Tokelau boat. People like me 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 PE were not immediately returned although they knew everyone would be freaking out. Mind you, they always responded immediately when I was thinking of booking the trip and about sending money or credit card. Any emails regarding refunds or any change were not even addressed.

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 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 misled about. Swains was advertised as a stop for 4 hours on the tour and I spoke with PE about it personally on Skype and was told there was a deal worked out and we would definitely land on it etc. When I asked Paul, the 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 was the breaking point for many and some people just dropped then and decided to try to recoup their money back. Non-performance and misleading or lying to customers is a serious offense.

Now to the actual trip.
So as not to sound too 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 PE had guaranteed our arrival apparently and the guy on Tokelau dislikes PE 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 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 PE etc. Finally, 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 PE.

So basically, for $1900, we were misled 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 arguing 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.

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  1. At least the kids are cute!

  2. Thanks and ya it was ultra frustrating and I am just happy to be chilling in Fiji a few days before starting to move around again.

    Erica the kids were adorable and everyone but the one guy was really nice but he was so bad that ruined for the whole island

  3. Actually I meant that the guy said they had crabs the size of basketballs on the island, not the size of lobsters like I said above, that didn’t make any sense. haha.

    Anyway, so you’re heading to Tuvalu next right? There is no better city name then Funafuti, Tuvalu.

  4. Whatever the size, we didnt see or get any! Tuvalu next week, Solomons first

  5. You ever going to do a little write-up on the Samoan Islands or are you just over it at this point? Don’t blame you if you don’t. Have fun in Fiji man.

  6. Wow!

  7. Captain Canada... says

    Are your shorts really pink?

  8. Real men wear pink kid! Canadians…

  9. Maurizio Giuliano says

    Thanks for the useful report… I have been looking into Pitcairn options for a while and this is all useful.

    However I did go to Tokelau and it was an excellent and smooth experience. It was about 2002 so don’t remember the details. But it was a Government boat from Apia, I had called them up in advance and booked by phone, was like $ 400 r/t. We visited all three islands and stayed overnight on the last one. Everyone very friendly.

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