The country of Niue is a single island about 13 miles long and 8 wide. It is a “raised coral atoll,” meaning that it used to be an atoll like the Tuamotus, but the sea bed later pushed up so that it is now a plateau about 50 meters high. The ‘rock’ of the entire island is limestone — old coral.
Niue is independent, but in most respects it is a remote outpost of New Zealand. Aside from visiting yachts (there were 4 others during our stay), you can only get there by air from New Zealand — two flights per week in the tourist season, one per week the rest of the year. A cargo boat stops by once a month. There are about 1300 residents. There used to be more, but many moved to New Zealand.
The last day of our passage from Maupiti was rough — gusts to 30 knots and uncomfortable waves from two directions. Niue doesn’t have a “harbor” — just an indentation/bay on the west side, providing shelter from the prevailing easterlies, but wide open if the wind doesn’t follow the script. The bay is deep (and all coral bottom) almost to shore, so it is nearly impossible to anchor. But there are moorings, courtesy of the Niue Yacht Club. The yacht club is not a group of resident sailors. It is a few volunteers helping visiting “yachties” like us. Many yachties in turn support the club by becoming members. The club has more members than there are residents in the country!
It was a relief on arrival to find clearly marked moorings, and discover that the bay provided surprisingly good shelter from the big seas. Customs, immigration, quarantine and health officials met me on the pier, and I filled out the forms in the back of their van. The pier is the only place to get ashore, and it is not well protected. You take your dinghy (or fishing boat) alongside and lift it out of the water with an electric hoist, and park it on the concrete.
There’s a bank, but they don’t exchange currencies; they will provide NZ currency by charging your credit card, and adding a 5% fee. There is a pretty good grocery store, and fresh bread (including a sweet coconut bread). There are several restaurants, though some are only open a few days a week. There’s a very helpful tourist information center that provides an island map, and booklet about the businesses. And the yacht club maintains showers next to the pier.
And…everyone speaks English. That was a welcome change for me, whether dealing with the officials or chatting with someone in a restaurant. I would have enjoyed French Polynesia (even) more if I spoke French. Interesting, though, that in French Polynesia I learned basic words (hello, thank you, cheers!) in the local Polynesian language, and used them regularly as a courtesy to the Polynesian people. In Niue everyone just speaks English to white people — I didn’t learn a single word in the local Polynesian language.
It is a quiet place. But a fun place to explore. There are dozens of “sea tracks” from the road (up on the plateau) down to the ocean. These are paths, often with stairs to help in the steep parts, to get to the views, the caves, the chasms, the coral formations that shape the island. We rented bicycles and rode to some of the choice places, per the tourist info.
We went to the Limu Pools, and snorkeled there. These pools of water are connected to the ocean, but inside a very protective reef. And fresh water flows in through the island’s coral base. The fresh water is much colder than the seawater. Swimming in the pools you go from warm to cold to warm to cold…every few feet. Or, when it is cold you can dive down just a foot or so to the warm salt water below the cold fresh water. Looking through the water you see “shimmering” similar to air above hot pavement. The coral shapes were interesting, and we saw fish with new/different/surprising color patterns.
We rode on to the Matapa Chasm and walked to the Talava Arches. For these you need to see photos…when I can get them uploaded. Wifi, by the way, is provided “free” on Niue, with a $25 connection fee. We signed up to get it on the boat. But it wasn’t very fast (the whole country is connected to the Internet via a satellite link), and it wasn’t always reliable. I couldn’t get my photos to the blog before we left.
Riding back to town late in the afternoon, I said, “Let’s stop at the first burger joint we pass.” We saw one bar, and we stopped, but they had no food. What they did have was, according to a little sign, “the world’s most challenging golf course; one hole, par one.” To understand this we had to walk a short distance out to the cliff down to the ocean, where there was a “tee.” From there you could see the flag/pin, across a chasm and in a little clearing on the opposite cliff. So in effect there is no way to get to the “green,” and hence the challenge and the par one.
The guys at the bar told us we could get burgers at the town market. That seemed odd, but we pedaled there. The market at that hour was empty, except for one couple selling burgers. And they made an awesome burger! They didn’t ask what you wanted on it; it came with fresh tomato and lettuce and pickled beets and a homemade chutney, and was topped with a fried egg. It hit the spot, after a long day of cycling and hiking and swimming. And it came with interesting tales of bringing all sorts of fruit trees and nuts and veggies to the island and trying to grow them on their land.
Another night Bill and I ate at a sushi restaurant that served some of the best sushi I’ve had. I little pricey, but not unreasonable, and a nice treat. The passion fruit ice cream served on a bed of fresh papaya with chocolate sauce wasn’t so bad either!
There was a fishing competition going on while we were there. We had to wait an hour to relaunch our dinghy when we wanted to leave, because they were using the hoist to lift and weigh the day’s catch. All yellow fin tuna. Someone said that no mahi-mahi had been caught. I thought it was just us failing to bring in my favorite fish, but I guess they have become scarce. The largest yellow fin brought in so far weighed in at 76 kilos — about the same weight as me! That one was caught from a powerboat. But most of the fishermen were paddling small outrigger canoes, and I found it amazing to see them bring in 30+ pound fish. I’d love to see one of them get the fish from the ocean into the little canoe.
It rained all day one day. I think that’s the first “rainy day” (as opposed to passing squalls) we’ve had since leaving Key West! It was pleasant to spend the day doing little. And then it was Sunday, when no work is done on Niue, and no fishing or diving. We bent the rules a little and did laundry on the pier, and snorkeled right off the boat (surprisingly interesting coral and fish between us and the shore), but it was a quiet day. We talked at length with our Canadian crew (Bob) about the differences in government and healthcare between Canada and the USA.
I enjoyed the slow pace on Niue, and I would have been happy to stay longer. What?? Is this Zeke of No Regrets saying he wants to slow down?? Yup. I’m not in such a rush to move on anymore. And whales come to Niue to calve, starting in a couple weeks. They say you can watch them from your boat, right on the mooring. I would love to stay for that. But there is a BPO schedule to meet. And there is heavy wind expected to blow from the south, which could make for a very uncomfortable ride on the mooring. So…we’re off to Vava’u (Tonga).
Oh BTW, my Niue courtesy flag still looks great after six days. 😉
[Written en route to Niue]
It is 1,000 miles from Maupiti to Niue — about a week, and we’re four days into it. The weather has been beautiful, the winds light, no rain squalls, so there’s been lots of time to contemplate…emptiness. No boats. No land. A thousand miles of ocean. Bill has been reading, and Bob has been learning everything about the boat. I’ve been doing a lot of staring at the ocean during the day, and staring at the sky at night.
The emptiness is punctuated by little events. We caught a fish the first day. That generates lots of activity: trying to slow the boat down while we reel it in; all taking our positions on the stern to gaff it and to blow a mouthful of rum into its gills to kill it; filleting it still on the back of the boat, to contain the mess; cleaning up the mess; and of course cooking and eating it!
We haven’t caught a fish since, but yesterday we had small tuna swimming with us. I’ve never seen this before — fish acting like dolphins. They would swim alongside and sometimes in front of the boat. Then disappear for a few minutes, and then they’d be back. We were trailing a lure at the time, but I was a little relieved that we didn’t get a strike. Didn’t seem right to catch a fish that was being a sociable escort.
The stars in the early night have been magnificent, and then the moon rises, and paints its own beauty across the sky. Last night I saw six satellites. One was so bright we were convinced it had to be the space station. But then ten minutes later I saw another one that was equally bright.
We celebrated Bill’s birthday. Bob had brought a two kilo bag of granola from home, as a gift from Bill’s daughter. (She made granola and sent it to Bob, but it didn’t get there in time, so Bob bought some.) Bob made a card and wrote a poem to go with it. I baked banana bread.
Receiving emails via the radio is a treat. Missives from family and from the other rally boats. Lots of time to think about family and friends (and future boats and adventures). Lots of time to enjoy emptiness.
I got interrupted at this point by a yellow fin tuna on my line. An hour later he was filleted. Then I had to finish the loaf of bread I had started preparing earlier. And then I offered to make dinner even though it wasn’t my turn in our rotation, because I found an interesting recipe for fish curry. After dinner we needed to get the spinnaker down because the wind was veering too far forward. By then it was time to look for satellites (just for fun). No satellites tonight (we might have missed prime spotting time when we were busy with the spinnaker), but two airplanes. I’m guessing we’re approaching the flight path between New Zealand and Hawaii.
So the last several hours have been busy, but now it’s back to the emptiness. Stars galore. I learned that the dark area next to the Southern Cross is actually a dust cloud that obscures the stars behind it. I have two more hours on my watch to contemplate that…