Much of the information about getting to Tokelau is dated. I have just returned from Tokelau Aug. 1, 2012 via the ferry MV Lady Naomi (a rust bucket). It was in fact an interim replacement for the notoriously terrible MV Tokelau (now presumably being overhauled). In June the New Zealand government finally leased a new ferry, the PB Matua for two years for $6 million. The bigwigs took the inaugural voyage to Tokelau in June. Voyage number 2 was to depart Aug. 4 but has been stuck dockside in Apia, Samoa awaiting "paperwork". The local paper said 60 passengers were stuck in Apia awaiting transport more than a week or two later, but that report has now been deleted from the web. I know of people who are stranded on Tokelau and have been trying to get back to Apia. Had I not continued on the ferry to all three atolls (about three hours on each) and tried to stay on one of them who knows how long I would have been stranded there. The web and Tokelau (Tokelau Apia Liaison Office), Samoan and New Zealand officials are very mum about what is going on and when or if the ferry has finally gone on voyage 2. No matter what your plans may be, do not assume that you will ever depart on schedule. It cost me $240 extra to change my plane reservations to and from Samoa when they changed the schedule at least twice. If you decide to disembark on one of the three atolls be prepared to be stuck there for two weeks or more. The people of Tokelau are lovely and friendly individuals. They deserve better than the treatment that respective governments have been giving them.
The MV Tokelau is not only the one way to get to Tokelau, but the only means of getting AROUND the country, too.
The cargo ship calls at each atoll a few times during a one-week period between arrival and departure from and to Samoa. It takes just under a day to travel one way from atoll to atoll. You can get on and off as you wish during the day, but require permission from the relevant island chief if you want to stay overnight anywhere - otherwise you can stay on the boat.
The ONLY scheduled method of travelling to, from and between Tokelau is on board the cargo ship MV Tokelau, which operates a round trip from Apia, Samoa approximately twice a month.
The schedules are not announced very far in advance and are very changeable, and it is not possible to pre-book your trip by more than a few days. Consequently, you really have to arrange a long-ish stay in Samoa in order to arrange a trip to Tokelau, otherwise you risk missing your chance due to the boat being overbooked or the schedules changing to an inconvenient date.
It is about a day and a half from Apia to Fakaofo, and the ship then traverses between the three atolls for a week before starting the return journey. The journey time between each atoll is slightly less than a day each way. The whole round-trip usually takes nine days.
There is only one cabin available, with two single beds, and this will almost certainly be booked well in advance by somebody important, so in all likelihood you will have to sleep on deck.
Three meals a day and unlimited drinking water are included in the price, but there is no entertainment, so take reading material. Also take some fruit and snacks, because the food is AWFUL.
It is possible but difficult to get to Tokelau by private yacht, and you still need a visitor's permit before arrival, otherwise you will not be welcome. There are no harbours anywhere in Tokelau, so you would have to drop anchor offshore.
All travel to Tokelau is administered by the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office (TALO) in Apia, Samoa. Any taxi driver can take you there.
Tokelau is a difficult place to reach, because there are no flights to Tokelau. Samoa is the only practical gateway to Tokelau. There is a Tokelau affairs office in Samoa. It is just outside of downtown Apia. If you are in Apia just ask a taxi driver to take you to the Tokelau affairs office.
The phone and fax numbers of the Tokelau affairs office in Apia are the following:
Phone: 685-20822 or 685-20823 (extension 121)
The e-mail address of the office manager is firstname.lastname@example.org
There are 3 cargo ships that operate to the Tokelau Islands. The names of the ships are MV Tokelau, Samoa Express and Lady Samoa. There are 3 main islands in Tokelau. The ships stop at each of these. It takes 28 hours from Samoa to the closest of the 3 main islands. The cargo ships typically use 5 to 10 days for the trip to the Tokelau Islands and back to Apia. The cargo ships depart every second week or sometimes more frequently. The latest sailing schedule can be obtained from the Apia office.
The trip has to be booked well in advance, because when I was at the Tokelau affairs office, they told me that the ships were fully booked 2 months ahead. Therefore you have to book your Tokelau trip on the cargo ship at least 2 months in advance and then plan your flight to Apia according to the cargo ship schedule.
A visa is also needed. The visa processing takes 2-3 weeks. The visa form can be obtained from the Apia office. After you have filled up the visa form you can then fax it back to the Apia office for processing.
The only other way to get to Tokelau is with a private yacht. A visa is required also if you arrive with a yacht.
Mr Luciano Perez, the owner of the Luana Liki Hotel in Nukunonu, has a boat available for charter. He can take you to visit his family's island, Sydney Island, and for a tour of the atoll.
There are no harbours anywhere in Tokelau, so the boat drops anchor offshore and is met by a metal dinghy from the particular island, which transports people and cargo to and from land.