Palmerston Island – A Well Kept Secret

On the morning of Friday, August 9, 2013, the Wild One arrived to the outer reef of Palmerston Island located approximately 312 miles (500 km) north-west of Rarotonga, Cook Islands. 

Palmerston Island

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a local man, Tere Marsters, outside of the reef that surrounds the island.  He showed us where to moor our boat and invited us ashore for lunch at his house.  Tere was out to sea on a look out for a boat that was carrying his wife and daughter who have been away from the island in New Zealand for the past year.  Over the next six days, we were lucky to experience first hand the traditional Palmerston Island  hospitality – the first local to meet an incoming yacht, becomes that boat’s host and shares his home with the crew for the duration of their stay. The visitors become a part of the family and are treated as such.  Thus, we stepped ashore and were welcomed into the Marsters family with open arms.

Palmerston Welcome

Tere and Yavonne welcome the crew of the Wild One at their home

The Palmerston Island is home to about sixty residents, all descendants of William Marsters who first settled on the island in 1862 with his three Polynesian wives and build up a dynasty over the years.  Today, you have to be a Marsters or married to one to be able to live on the island.

Palmerston Marsters Grave

William Marsters Grave Stone

Tere, his wife Yvonne, and their daughter Shakana really took us under their wing, opened their home and shared their food and resources with us.  We must have had lunch at their home every day during out six-day.  In addition, I, who was still not accustomed to living on the boat with limited fresh water, enjoyed couple of nice hot fresh water showers.  A fresh water shower is a real luxury on board of the Wild One, since we only have 80 gallons (300 liters) of fresh drinking water on board.  In return for their hospitality, sailors help the locals wherever they can with skill/labor or by trading. Our captain helped Tere put down three more yacht moorings around the reef.  I assisted Yavonne with setting up her email and Katarina undertook mailing letters for the family from our next port.

Palmerston Beach View

Palmerston Beach View

On Sunday, the entire crew accompanied by Yvonne, Shakana, and Tere went to the morning church services.  Throughout the South Pacific islands, Sunday is a holy day and Christian traditions are taking seriously.  All work stops on Sundays and everyone goes to church.  Tere is the pastor of the one church in town.  The church service was one of the most beautiful services I’ve attended and somewhat unique, with singing in both English and Polynesian. Hats are a must for the ladies attending church, so everyone dressed smartly for the service.  The church is a simple and well kept building, one of the nicest buildings on the island.  The entire town was in attendance and joined in singing and prayer.  After church, we were once again invited to lunch at Tere’s house.  We had delicious Parrot fish prepared in the earth oven along with local coconut sauce and followed by most delicious coconut cake ever.

The island is efficiently run and well maintained by Tere and his “brothers”.  They have internet access, cell phone service, electricity, one nurse on the island, and a bank branch opening soon.  The one school on the island is set up smartly by giving each student individual attention so that each student learns at his/her level.  Yvonne is the school’s principal and there is also one English teacher and two more local teachers.

Palmerston Admin Building

Palmerston Administraion Building

Of course, we had to return the favor and had Tere and family along with the crew of the Seawhisper over for dinner onboard of the Wild One.  Shakana and Yvonne have never been snorkeling on the outer reef (the locals view snorkeling as a leisure activity and only snorkel for food), so the two of them enjoyed their first outer reef snorkel experience before dinner accompanies by members of the Wild One Crew.  Everyone had a blast and other first experience.

Dinner aboard the Wild One

Dinner aboard the Wild One

During our six days on the island we enjoyed plenty of snorkeling on the reef which is teaming tropical fish, turtles, and sharks.  I finally saw my first shark – white tip reef shark and even had two sharks follow me on one of my free dives thus attaining a new nick name “Shark Bait”.

Shark Bait

Shark Bait

One day, we turned the Wild One into a fishing charter and took Tere, his cousin Edward, Shakana, and Edward’s son David fishing.  While, we didn’t catch anything for dinner that day, there was plenty of excitement for all as we reeled in a shark that got our fish.  We let that one off the hook to live another day.

Palmerston Island Coconut Cake

2 cups of desiccated coconut (dry shredded coconut)

2 cups of milk

2 cups of sugar

2 tea spoons of baking powder

3 cups of flour

Mix all ingredients together and bake in the oven at 350F for about an hour.  The interesting fact is that coconut will replace the eggs and bind all of the ingredients together.

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