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Since first reading about Niue (probably in a cruising blog), it’s always fascinated me for some reason, perhaps because so few people have ever heard of it.
One of the smallest countries in the world, Niue is one giant coral rock sitting in the Pacific Ocean. It is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand, so everyone speaks English and they use NZ dollars for currency. It’s often called the Rock of Polynesia, an appropriate name considering it’s one big rock, unlike the volcanic masses or sandy beaches of the rest of Polynesia.
Captain Cook called it Savage Island, which just means he didn’t know shit. This is the friendliest place we’ve been to. Ok, maybe not as friendly as Canada, but really dang friendly. Everyone is outgoing and kind, offering us rides and always waving or saying hello.
If you aren’t coming by your own boat, like we did, the best way to get there is a flight from Auckland – once a week regularly, and twice a week in peak season (April – October).
We arrived on Tuesday the 16th after an overnight from Beveridge Reef. As Niue is the world’s largest coral island, at some point, the reef at Alofi, the capital, was blasted away to clear an entrance for boats. In that area, moorings were installed and maintained by the Niue Yacht Club. It is extremely unprotected, so really, we’ve just picked up a mooring in the Pacific Ocean. There is a wharf, with a unique feature: a crane to pick up boats and put them on shore. Customs was easy to handle, with the officers meeting us at the dock and then driving us to the Yacht Club to secure our mooring. Next order of business was figuring out wifi. We were able to use some (very very slow) wifi at the yacht club, but by the next morning, we had faster (but still slow) wifi on the boat.
It’s a great cruising gathering point. When we arrived we became the 12th boat in the mooring field, meeting up with Anahoa, Price Diamond, and Viking, all of whom we met in Beveridge Reef, plus a few other boats we’ve seen and heard but never met.
Wednesday we handled two more admin tasks; getting cash (there are no ATMs in Niue) and getting some diesel. The cash required going to the ANZ bank and paying a fee to pull out cash from a credit card.
The diesel project was labor intensive – Brian from Niue Yachts Club picked us up at the wharf and drove us to the gas station. We filled up our four jerry cans (20 gallons total) and Brian drove us back to the wharf. Then we had to get the jerry cans into our dinghy, get out to Starry Horizons (it was a choppy day), heft the jerry cans onboard and will the tank. And repeat. We didn’t fill our tanks much more than half, because diesel is expensive here (about $300 for 40 gallons).
I snorkeled on Thursday, exploring the reef under us and between us and the shore. There are many large reef fish, excellent coral, and katuali (sea snakes). The snakes are fascinating to watch. They live on the bottom, but slither their way up to the surface, float for a few moments, and then slither back down. Sometimes it’s startling to run into one. The water is exceptionally clear.
Thursday night we had Jessie and Neil over from Red Thread – a boat we’ve seen many times before but hadn’t met. Neil and Jessie are our age and from Seattle. We very enthusiastically chatted politics and cruising videos well into the dark.
Friday I shopped at the morning market, buying tomatoes, banana chips, homemade doughnuts, and a papaya and getting to taste Nane Pia, a porridge made with tapicoa and coconut milk. I also stopped at the grocery store for a few items, and then David spent the rest of the day washing our girl down. She was dirty!
Monday morning we picked up our rental car for our biggest day in Niue – sightseeing! Thanks to the wonderful Niue Information Center, we had a map and a brochure full of all the things to do and see in Niue. One of the coolest things here is what they call Sea Tracks – a path that leads from the main road to the shore. The shore side could be a view, a beach, or a pool. There are probably about 50 sea tracks, and most of them weren’t labeled on our map, but they are easy to find from the main road due to the consistent signage all over the island.
Our first stop was Kalaone Sea Track, just a short way down the road from the wharf, and across from Starry Horizons. We’ve seen people walking around the rocks at low tide, and this is a popular place for outrigger canoes to launch. The water is shallow and clear; we could see large green (parrot fish) and redfish swimming in schools.
Next, we stopped at the Ana’ana point burial cave, just on the side of the road, where there are human remains visible. After that, we stopped briefly at the Noni Farm to taste Noni Juice – a very popular drink here, but definitely an acquired taste.
The next stop was Anapala Chasm. After a short hike, we descended the 155 steps into the chasm. At the base of the rock walls is a freshwater pool. We didn’t swim, but I waded in to feel the water. Perhaps if we had remembered our dive flashlight, I would have swum further in.
Togo Chasm was next. The guide said this was not for the faint of heart. After a half hour walk, we came to the black pinnacle coral field by the shore. We could see the waves pounding into the rock, and the pinnacles stretched for at least a mile either way. The path continued to the chasm, where we descended a ladder to find ourselves at a beach, with large boulders reminding us of the Baths in the BVIs. Continuing, we climbed over rocks to find a continuation of the path and into the next chasm, with another pool. This chasm had plants growing all over the walls and in the pool.
At this point, it was 1 pm and we realized that we needed to get our butts in gear. We drove all the way around the north side, passing the highest elevation point (only 69 meters!) We stopped at Limu Pools. Now that we were on the west side of the island, the shore side attractions are much more protected. The pools at Limu are beautiful, filled with coral and fish. There is also an interesting thermocline phenomenon – fresh water meets the salt water, and the cold fresh water creates a layer over the warm salt water. The freshwater layer is not clear – it’s like looking through a frosted glass. It was interesting, but boy was it cold! I kept diving down to warm up.
Unfortunately, we needed to detour – David boo-booed his foot on the rock snorkeling through a cave, and we needed to get band-aids because the Chief Medical Officer (me) forgot to pack them. Fortunately, the island is so small, it was only a 15-minute trip to go to Swanson grocery store and pick up the band-aids…plus some ice cream bars for morale. Thankfully David wasn’t ready to give up and we headed back north again for Palaha Cave.
Palaha Cave peers out over the Pacific Ocean and boasts a large window and columns. We were approaching low tide, and the caves create hundreds of tide pools, some of which were filled with coral.
As low tide approached, we moved up to Talava Chasm for our last stop of the day. The path took about a half hour to get to the cave/chasm/arch, but we were stunned by the beauty. We had the site all to ourselves, and at low tide, you can walk across the rock to the arch and to a small beach. Again, low tide left us with tons of tide pools to explore.
By the end of the tour, we were exhausted from all the walking and swimming. We still didn’t get to see many of the major sites like the Avaiki Cave (best at low tide) and Matapa Chasm (best midday). I would definitely recommend a two-day car rental to see everything.
Tuesday we had another big day planned. There is a whale research project currently underway in Niue, and many boats have volunteered their time. That afternoon, we welcomed 7 high school students, 2 researchers, and 2 teachers aboard. Once settled, we set off to look for whales. While we have seen whales from the mooring (including a fantastic breaching), the only way to get close to a whale is to participate in the research or hire a tour boat. By participating in the educational and research project, we were able to donate Starry Horizons in exchange for an unforgettable experience.
Many of the kids onboard, despite having grown up on an island nation, had never been aboard a boat. Ben and Cara, the two researchers, explained about the whale research project and what they do out here. There are three things the researchers are looking for:
- Photos of the whale flukes, which are unique to each whale, like a human fingerprint
- Hydrophone recordings of songs of the whales
- When whales breach, they actually shed parts of their skin, and researchers collect the skin for DNA sampling
We motored north towards the point of the island and saw two whales together (locating them by their spouts). Next, we turned our engines off and drifted, while Ben lowered the hydrophone into the water. Everyone on the boat got to take turns listening to the whales sing. On our way back we spotted another whale, and this one put on a show for us – slapping his tail over and over again against the water. It was amazing to watch!
That night, we attended the Tuesday night buffet dinner and show at Jenna’s Restaurant. The meal was definitely unique – we had dishes like uga soup (local coconut crabs), takihi (papaya and taro casserole), and povi masima (salted beef – ours was served wrapped in a bitter green and foil packet). Afterward, 2 young girls (maybe 10 years old) put on a show for us, dancing some traditional Niuean dancing accompanied by drums and chanting.
Many days we have seen whales and dolphins from our mooring. We even got to see one whale breach!
Tonight we are leaving for Tonga, and on this passage, we will cross the international date line! So, we will arrive in Tonga Sunday morning, after spending two nights out at sea. Kind of wild!