Only when you start something new then you know where the beginning is!
I was thinking for some time on how to start this story: when I started planning this DXpedition.
After a long time, I understood that the beginning of DXpedition is not this year, not last year but the
year when I celebrated 50 years of my amateur radio hobby, which for me is in October 1969, when I was in the eighth grade of elementary school in my home village of Vitanovac and I visited the radio club
Kralgevo YU1DKL. At that moment after this visit I understood, that my hobby will be amateur radio.
And this passion was much more than a hobby for me, as my profession is in a related field of radio communication.
Now direction Tokelau ZK3A, for many radio amateurs around the world, this is a most wanted country
in different mode or band of operation. Why direction to Tokelau? Reason is, I am sitting at 03:00 in the
morning, local time, to start to write this story when my 18 friends are sleeping on the boat Mataliki, which is the official boat of the Tokelau.
The boat is cutting and jumping through the ocean waves taking us to our final destination, the country
of Tokelau which is 8 degrees Latitude and 171 degrees Longitude and it is under the suzerainty of New
Zealand. This country is in the tropical area and it never experiences cold temperature and for us that
live in the northern hemisphere, the tropical areas are a symbol of warm ocean and tropical vacation
paradise. I like tropical areas a lot. In the 90’s I used to go skiing in my country and that’s when I then
decided that for me the tropical, warm areas are what I call paradise.
Tokelau is a country made up of 3 separate atolls: Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo. In addition, there are
also hundreds of other small uninhabited islands.
Now on the main target. During the presentation of our last DXpedition 9M0W to Spratly Islands in 2018, on Kyiv Polytechnic University, to my Ukrainian friends I have met in person, Alex UT5UY, after many prior radio contacts. He is the Head of Sales at Rig Expert Ukraine Ltd. that is now also one of our main sponsors.
We spoke about our wonderful hobby and DXpeditioning. After our conversation he proposed a DXpedition to the island of Tokelau which he visited in 2010, after having boat trouble in the way to Kiribati. The boat had to stop for 2 days on the Tokelau island of Nukunonu for repair before returning to Apia, Samoa. During this short stay in Nukunonu, he and his friends used the call ZK3X to make radio contacts. After thinking about it for a short period of time I accepted his proposal. It was for me a challenge but in the same time a big responsibility to organize this DXpedition.
We started preparations and I named 2 co-leaders for the DXpedition: Alex UT5UY for logistics because
it is not easy to coordinate 19 people, and Roman UR0MC for the technical side.
We quickly formed our team. We had a lot of requests from hams to join the team but we were limited
to a maximum 19 team members.
During a science conference in Auckland, New Zealand where I participated with my colleague Dr. S.
Panic, I’ve made the decision to go to Fiji and Samoa to visit my old friend Atsu 5W1SA which stores at his home in Apia one of my containers with ham radio equipment that we used in prior DXpeditions.
Atsu, thank you so much for your support for my DXpeditions over the years!
We arrived in Apia, Samoa at hotel Millenia. After a short rest we visited the representative office of the
Tokelau government in Apia. We were interested to find out how to obtain an amateur radio license for Tokelau. After a few of inquiries, I was a bit disappointed as there was no definite answer from out meetings. But I was able to obtain the telephone number of Teletok director in Fakaofo, who is the person responsible for all amateur licenses in Tokelau. I was in the hotel room number 31. I remember as if it is today. I attempted to call Mr. Tealofi but there was no answer. I called again after 30 min and Mr. Tealofi, the CEO of Teletok picked up the phone. I presented myself and the asked details about amateur radio license. He quietly listened to my story and then asked me where am I. I am in Apia, hotel Millenia in room 31. He responded that he is in room 27 at the same hotel. How happy I was in that
instance, to be at the right place at the right moment!
We agreed to meet over dinner in the restaurant in front of the hotel. It was a nice dinner with lobster salad and wine. After dinner, all worked out easy and fast. We quickly found common language and he invited me to visit Tokelau, his office and people of Tokelau and obtain the desired amateur radio license.
After this successful meeting I quickly reached out to my Ukrainian friends to give them the good news.
The whole team was very happy and the DXpedition planning started the next day.
In the beginning of May 2019, Dusko ZL3WW and I, travelled to the island of Fakaofo in Tokelau and stopped by the Teletok office.
The Teletok office run by Mr. Tealofi and his deputy Mr. Bosco was well organized and hosted us very nicely. They provided us with all the information we needed regarding transportation, traveling, food,accommodation and other technical details that we needed for our DXpedition. At the end of the meeting we received our amateur radio license with the callsign ZK3A valid from May 10 to December 31, 2019. The cost of the license was NZ$100.
During our return trip to Apia, from Fakaofo, we made short visits to the other 2 atolls: Nukunonu and Atafu and that gave us a nice overview of this small country but with large territorial waters.
On arrival in Apia, Dusko ZL3WW and I checked and prepared our antenna systems (stored at Atsu’s 5W1SA house) for out upcoming October 2019 Tokelau DXpedition.
As I already mentioned, 19 persons, that love DXpeditions, very good amateur radio operators: UT5UY, UR0MC, RW7K, US0KW, R7KW, UT8IO, SV2BFN, ZL3WW, VK3FY, VK3GK, K6VHF, WD5COV, KO8SCA, N7QT, VE7NY, PY2NDX, UR9QQ, RX3APM and YT1AD began preparations for ZK3A activity.
Most of the logistical details were done by the Ukrainian and Russian operators. On August 13 and 14 we organized meeting in Zaporozhie, Ukraine. Our host was our friend Igor UT7QF.
After returning from Ukraine I was very satisfied that all the main issues have been resolved and we were ready to start our adventure.
Pacific life is slow going and there are always issues that come up so in the beginning of September 2019, I’ve made the decision, to send an advanced team of 3 members to Tokelau by the cargo boat Kalopaga.
2 boat seats for Adrian KO8SCA and Dusko ZL3WW were confirmed immediately, but Rob N7QT was on waiting list for departure September 24, 2019. But again, unexpectedly on September 23, day before departure of the advanced team, we received good news. The government of Tokelau, scheduled a second boat named Mataliki for destination Tokelau, together with boat Kalopaga.
This boat travelled directly to Fakaofo and so, all 3 team members arrived in Fakaofo 2 days before the schedule.
During the preparations for the DXpedition, MR. Tealofi, CEO of Teletok, asked our team to make a radio amateur equipment donation not only for the Island of Fakaofo where will we operate from, but also for the other 2 islands Nukunonu ZK3NT and Atafu ZK3AT.
Dave WD5COV was very active and successful in his work to obtain sponsorship and donations for ZK3A and so we obtained donations for equipment for all 3 locations.
All 3 locations will have the same radio TS-590, dipole for 40M and 80M, laptop with all necessary amateur radio products. And on the location Fakaofo we also had a beam Cushcraft A3S donated by GigaParts. We have this equipment will be used by the local people to make contacts from this rare DX entity.
Main part of our team arrived in Samoa on September 29. It was Sunday and all our team were tired after a long trip but very excited to start the new adventure.
The next day we presented our passports to obtain the Tokelau entry permit and left our luggage for inspection, but again we run into problems.
According to the schedule, Mataliki must first go to Atafu, then to Nukunonu and last to Fakaofo, which meant we will have an additional 2 days of operating. The team was disappointed but thanks to miss Taitai and my insistence, minister of transportation of Tokelau changed the schedule and gave order to the boat to go first to Fakaofo and then to the other 2 islands.
Again, the team was very happy and satisfied with the outcome. After dinner, organized in Serbian style:
fish, fish soup and beer our team went to bed.
The next day, on Tuesday, was a very important day. After 06:00AM wake up time, 15 min breakfast and 15 min walking to the port, we were ready for immigration and customs control.
We received our passports with the entry permit for Tokelau and then we stepped on to the boat Mataliki.
At 08:00AM we finally started sailing.
On the boat ride, no more whiskey and vodka.
Everyone drinking coffee and waiting for the sunrise (the arrival time) and the first view of our target island: Fakaofo.
During our trip the sea was relatively calm but some of our team members had sea sickness.
Slowly, we started seeing the red light of the sun in the horizon, showing up from the East.
All team is now on the upper deck of the boat, taking pictures and preparing to disembark.
After arriving on the island, we immediately received our luggage and divided our team in 2 groups.
10 team members stayed on the main island of Fale
and the other 9 team members left by small boat to Fenua Fala Island
The advance team already installed the largest and the more complex antenna systems.
On arrival the main team just installed delta loop for 160M hang from a cellphone tower on the island and 9 element beam for 6M.
Roman UR0MC was responsible for our EME contacts and he really was happy like a small child every time he was able to make an EME contact.
The 2 locations had the following antenna system:
Camp 1 on Fale Island: beam Mosley TA33M for 14/21/28 MHz, beam Mosley TW33XL for 10/18/24 MHz, 4 Square for LBS 3.5MHz and Comptek 4 square for 7 MHz and a vertical for 10MHz.
Camp 2 at the Teletok location: Cushcraft beam A3S 14/21/28 MHz with YAESU GDX 800 rotator,
Mosley beam TW33XL 10/18/24 MHz, dipole for 3.5 MHz, vertical for 7 MHz, dipole for 5 MHz, 9 element beam for 50MHz, vertical and delta loop for 1.8MHz and receiving antenna for 1.8MHz,
Beverage antenna (BOG) 120M long, as there was not space available.
Our equipment was:
Radio: 3 X Elecraft K3S, 3 X Kenwood TS-590s, 1 X Icom 7300, SunSDR Pro and a Rig One transceiver.
Amplifiers: 3 X SPE 1.5KW and 1 SPE X 1.3KW, Burst 2KW and one home 1 KW amplifier.
Sometimes, propagation was on our side and we were able to be in the air with 8 stations simultaneously in different bands and modes.
Having teams spread on 2 different islands, about 2 miles apart, gave us the opportunity to work multiples modes in the same band in the same time.
Like on any DXpedition there were some technical problems but the team was able to overcome them successfully. After an 8 day operation, we bring in our pocket more than 50K QSOs, as a gift to the amateur radio community.
We were active from 1.8MHz to 50MHz in different modes: CW. SSB, RTTY, FT8, EME and SSTV. Our team also enjoyed swimming, fishing in one of the most beautiful waters in the world and very friendly communication with the locals.
In a few occasions, our menu contained sashimi and lobster.
Every day, we also had available to drink fresh coconut milk.
We planned to be on the island until Friday October 11, 2019 but in in life not everything works according to a set schedule. On Wednesday October 9, 2019 at 10:00 we received the unexpected and unfortunate news from Mrs. Taitai: one child from island Nukunonu was ill and the boat Mataliki immediately changed the schedule in order to take this sick child urgently to Apia.
We had 2 solutions: pack everything in 3 hours to be on that boat leaving urgently or stay on the island for an additional 10 days. But for our team there was really no choice at all as we all have flight reservations for the trip home so the decision was taken to leave immediately.
We will arrive in Apia 2 days ahead of the schedule.
We were happy with all commentaries and support from the amateur radio on all social media.
Dusko ZL3WW will visit Tokelau again in the beginning of next year to provide additional training as well as help set up on all 3 islands, the amateur radio equipment that the team donated.
We cannot forget to mention here the incredible hospitability from all people of Fakaofo Island.
Special thanks to Mr. Pulenoku, the minister of Transport, Director of Teletok Mr Taibosco and other workers from Teletok: Ma, Rose, Mike and others.
It rained almost daily but the local team from Fakaofo delivered our food and water on time every day.
Their help on installing and uninstalling our antennas, transportation of equipment from the port etc,was invaluable.
In the end, a big thanks to my team for their cooperation and dedication to this DXpedition and for operating on all bands and modes. We spent a lot of time and personal money with one target in mind: to give a chance to the radio amateur world to have the pleasure of working this rare DX entity in multiple bands and modes.
Thanks to all amateur radio operators around the world for listening and calling us patiently in the big pileups.
As the Team Leader, I must emphasize professional and honest attitude of all Ukrainian and Russian amateurs and recomend this HAMs for any DX expedition in future.
And finally, this DXpedition is also a personal present, as I am celebrating 50 years of ham radio, a present to my children Milos, Alexandra and Milice and to our families and friends who are waiting patiently for our return home.
73, Hrane YT1AD/ZK3A