We had been motoring and hand-steering for over 24 hours when we first laid eyes on Niue – not that there was much to see in the rain. Niue hides her beauty well. One of the smallest countries and one of the largest raised coral atolls on earth – it was quite different to anywhere we had been before – no dramatic mountains or turquoise lagoons. Welcome to the world’s smallest independent nation. Its nickname, the Rock, is very apt. No sandy beaches here – you need to walk, climb, swim and dive to see the attractions hugging Niue’s perimeter. It’s a place for activity which after two rather stressful passages suited us just fine.
By the time we got to Niue we were very excited to get off the boat, explore, visit shops, eat in a couple of restaurants and see some friends. But first we needed to go ashore to check in with customs and immigration which meant using the rather intimidating dinghy crane. As mentioned Niue is basically a big rock, there is no harbour and no beach to land dinghies – yachts pick up moorings provided by the island in the vague shelter of the main bay but it is exposed and open to the swell. This makes for a rolly anchorage and has no safe place to leave dinghies while ashore. Fortunately the accommodating people of Niue have installed a crane on the sea wall which lifts local fishing boats and dinghies out of the water and deposits them neatly on the town quay if you get it right, which we didn’t always! What started out as a scary proposition quickly turned into a Niue highlight as the kids took turns pushing buttons to lift our trusty ‘car’ out of the sea, and people gathered to watch the spectacle of yachties getting it wrong.
The capital, Alofi,has one street with a few shops, a couple of restaurants, quite a few churches, no ATM, a great information centre and friendly locals. A short drive away there are a couple of schools, small supermarket and a great duty free shop selling yummy New Zealand wine. Nothing happens fast; well actually nothing much happens at all, but Niue is all the better for it. There is an authentic laid back charm permeating the whole island. We knew we had come to a friendly place when a policeman (one of only two on the island apparently!) stopped and offered to give us a lift to the local laundry after he saw Fin struggling with a huge bag!
Niue is a self governing state in free association with New Zealand – citizens have Kiwi passports and they use the NZ dollar. The island has its own unique feel but there are definite NZ influences and support in evidence. We visited an excellent climate change exhibition hosted by Otago Museum in the local high school (Boat School – tick!). They had apparently had every school child through the exhibition during its week on Niue. We also attended the island’s Whale Festival organised by the wonderful Oma Tafua, a local whale conservation organisation (the only indigenously run whale NGO in the Pacific). The relaxed atmosphere with music, dancing and stalls was great. We listened to local bands, played with bats, learnt about the local coastal creatures and incredible humpback whales who visit Niue to breed and calf.
Oma Tafua, meaning ‘to treasure whales’, relies on volunteers to collect data – photo ID, genetic sampling and acoustics – about the whales that visit Niue annually. We were aware that vessels had volunteered in the past to be whale research boats and although keen, we were not able to commit to being in Niue on specific dates. So when the organisation leaders mentioned that their current boat had unexpectedly left the bay, we offered Blue Zulu. Unfortunately the days didn’t quite match up but we did end up taking out the research team for a social trip as they wanted to entertain some New Zealand musicians who were visiting Niue to perform at a fundraising event for Oma Tafua. We had a lovely if somewhat short motor down the coast to see if we could spot any whales – we unfortunately didn’t see any humpbacks but we did manage to listen to their beautiful songs through a clever recording device the team bought onboard. Nonetheless it was a good day, we had fun singing along with the band, keeping a whale lookout and we’ve never had such impressive rail tail onboard! Those backing singers were BIG boys!
The island is honeycombed with caves above and below the water – we unfortunately don’t dive but believe Niue is a scuba divers dream – 100ft visibility, a playground of cavern swim throughs, pelagic species, coral, tropical fish, whales, dolphins, turtles – all in gin clear water as the limestone island has no run off. We were moored in 30ft and could see right down to the gorgeous coral bed under our keel from the comfort of the deck.
We really enjoyed discovering the limestone chasms, caves and pools accenting the island’s rocky coast. All the sea tracks are well maintained often with toilets and showers available. Some of our favourite sea tracks include Togo Chasm, Limu Pools and Avaiki Caves but really the whole coast is breathtaking. One of our first stops was Tulava Arches which like most sea tracks, is best explored at low tide, as you can walk through Palaha cave, out to the arch and through it. Another fun spot, Anapala Chasm is a freshwater chasm, with 155 steps down to the water. Our brave kids swam across the chasm in complete darkness while the parents ‘looked’ on in awe – eek! Togo Chasm’s highlight is the black pinnacle coral rock formations stretching for miles on either side of the path along the coast. Following the path further, we found a ladder going down into a surreal shipwreck type oasis. The chasm is filled with palm trees, beach, caves and a little swampy pool.
Limu Pools is a great snorkelling spot. Not a huge amount of fish life but the water did have a weird shimmery psychedelic appearance where the salt water and fresh water met, with the warmer salt water sinking and the colder fresh water creating a top layer. This thermocline is visible in the water, creating a frosted effect. The kids (and the braver than me adults) also had a great time swimming through all sorts of underwater caves and jumping off the limestone ledges into the pools.
Unfortunately at Limu Pools, we came across one of Niue’s other famous inhabitants, the curious sea snake known locally as Katuali. This striped snake is only found in Niue and is highly poisonous but never known to bite as its fangs are thankfully located too far back in its narrow throat. I, however, wasn’t taking any chances and decided to give swimming a skip from then on – lucky there was still plenty to do on land.
Avaiki Caves was one of my favourites (as if it’s even possible to choose!) The crystal clear water, sunshine, incredible colourful layers of the rock and sparkling light created a mesmerising experience. It’s also where we first met the lovely crews from Kiwi boats, Pelizeno and Dol Selene and Aussie boat, Raftkin – although we didn’t spent a lot of time together until Tonga, the kids had a great game of mini-golf in one of the most stunning settings clinging to the cliff edge!
We finished our last day of sightseeing with a visit to the Washaway cafe. Only open on Sundays, this ramshackle restaurant has burgers and an honesty bar – pour yourself a drink and just write it down in the book. Loving the hospitality of the locals!
More Niueans live abroad than on the island. Many immigrate to New Zealand, the most recently mass exodus was after Niue was devastated by Cyclone Heta in 2004 – one of the biggest storms ever recorded in the Pacific. Indeed, while driving around the island, we spotted many abandoned dwellings around the place. Although only around 1600, the tiny population of Niueans and palagi (European) expats are very friendly and we traded waves with everyone as we drove around the island.
Niue is often overlooked by cruisers, even Captain Cook dismissed it as a ‘Savage Island’ after locals threw stones. It’s fairly difficult to get to, the anchorage is exposed and VERY rolly and you really have to keep an eye on the weather. We had debated actually going but from the friendly welcome to the yummy food, fun dinghy crane, wonderful walks, cheeky spinner dolphins in the anchorage and dramatic scenery, we loved Niue and we all admitted it was well worth the passages across ‘the difficult middle’ to get there! Phew…
All are food related as it’s too difficult to recommend places – GO and see them ALL!
Hio Cafe – relaxed vibe with a great deck location overlooking Hio beach – yummy food!
Gills Indian – amazingly good value delicious $5 roti lunch and great mango lassi.
Crazy Uga – friendly staff and good coffee with lovely view of the ocean.
Washaway Cafe – good food, pretty spot, fun vibes and fab honesty bar – what’s not to like?