Tokelau Flag

Tokelau Travel Guide

Getting Around

Passes for small boats have been blasted through the reefs, but the ships must stand offshore. Passengers and cargo are transferred to the landings in aluminum whaleboats, which roar through the narrow passes on the crest of a wave. In offshore winds there's poor anchorage at Fakaofo and Nukunonu, and none at all off Atafu. For safety's sake, interatoll voyages by outrigger canoe are prohibited, and everyone must use the fortnightly MV Tokelau. There are no cars or trucks in Tokelau, but most canoes are now fitted with outboards.

The Riddle of the Joyita

One of the strangest episodes in recent Pacific history is indirectly related to Tokelau. On November 10, 1955, the crew of the trading ship Tuvalu sighted the drifting, half-sunken shape of the 21-meter MV Joyita, which had left Apia on October 3 bound for Fakaofo, carrying seven Europeans and 18 Polynesians.

The Joyita had been chartered by Tokelau's district officer to take badly needed supplies to the atolls and pick up their copra, which was rotting on the beach. When the vessel was reported overdue, a fruitless aerial search began, which only ended with the chance discovery by the Tuvalu some 150 km north of Fiji. There was no sign of the 25 persons aboard, and sacks of flour, rice, and sugar had been removed from the ship. Also missing were 40 drums of kerosene, seven cases of aluminum strips, and the three life rafts.

The ghost ship was towed to Fiji and beached. Investigators found that the rudder had been jammed, the radio equipment wrecked, and the engines flooded due to a broken pipe in the saltwater cooling system. The navigation lights and galley stove were switched on. The Joyita hadn't sunk because the holds were lined with eight centimeters of cork.

Though several books and countless newspaper and magazine articles have been written about the Joyita mystery, it has never been learned what really happened, nor have any of the missing persons ever been seen again. For a full account, see David Wright's 2002 book Joyita: Solving the Mystery.