Last jewel in the ornamental circumnavigation ring: A Trip to Niue – A Jewel in the Pacific Ocean
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“If I don’t go right now, I’m not going to do it”, I can feel the tremor in my voice, I hope the rest of the crowd can’t hear it. They all move aside to let me go, revealing through actions that they can hear the fear as much as I can taste it.
We are 15 metres underground in a silent, echoing cave. Only the solemn plop of icy, freshwater can be heard, woven between our awed whispers. I take two big breaths, the chill of the encompassing sapphire water temporarily forgotten. Two metres down, with lungs bursting only moments after a big breath, I turn underwater to head through to the next cave. My thrashing arms and legs fight for propulsion and I feel stuck in a current that does not exist! Suddenly I see the torchlight from our guide in the next submerged cave and head to the surface, seeking much-needed oxygen. I am that close to being able to breathe again, I think I can just make it, when a firm hand reaches down and pushes my head back under. I am coming up too early, my soft head-on course for sharp, jagged rock. Fighting to withhold my panic I swim further along and the hand releases me, I break back into my world with the sweet smell of air. In reality, I have been underwater a few seconds and swam a few metres. “That was pretty easy” I grin.
The unofficial tour of underwater caves is discreet and unsanctioned. If we should injure ourselves the responsibility would be at our door only. The sign to the entrance of the sunken paradise makes it perfectly clear. Willy Kalah, our guide, takes us on the tour for free, he owns a bar and hopes that we will pay him a visit – a good deal.
The alien surrounds and phallic-like rock glisten with their golds and yellows brightened in our torch beams. The green that survives around the startling blue pools of clear water is extraordinary. “Wows”, “ooohs”, and “arrhhhs” become the groups’ vocabulary between the grunting with climbing up and down sheer faces of slippery rock with only a fraying rope to assist.
Later, at Willy’s bar, he absorbs our weary minds in the tale of how his great grandfather was a pioneer in the island’s Banana export and import. The Kalah’s have their roots deeply entrenched in the tiny island, completing work that present-day boaties are glad for. Centuries ago the Kalah’s had a hand in blasting through the rocks to enable supply ships to make their deliveries by a dock and enable today’s travellers to make an easy landfall and haul their dinghies to a safe place.
Where are we? – Niue A Jewel in the Pacific Ocean
Niue is a country in its own right. The small island sits like a gem set in a gold of ocean. Situated approximately 230 nautical miles directly east of Tonga and 672 nautical miles east of Suva in Fiji, it creates a welcome rest sailing between Palmerston, (a tiny island 390 nautical miles northeast of Niue) and Tonga. Niue is one of the last jewels in the ornamental circumnavigation ring.
Candid conversation from the President
The tears that prick Mr Premier’s eyes are not from the whispering smoke of his cigarette, his eyes shine as he frankly describes losing his wife. Firstly, when she is alive and he neglects her while he works endless hours fulfilling his task of the leader of Niue and secondly when she sadly leaves this world. A mountain of a man sits beside him, his bodyguard seems to have an easy time and enjoys the myriad of conversations. As Mr Premier sits with a few of us boaties, sipping his cool beer in companionable chat, we can feel his excitement and love for his country. His honesty, friendliness, and down-to-earth spirit are refreshing and offers of residency are made with sincerity.
What does Niue offer boaties?
Twenty mooring buoys are on offer for visiting boats, a bargain at $5 per day. Anchoring is difficult, in deep, coral waters. With boats coming and going, most days there is one or two available moorings. Getting ashore is exciting. The sheer cliff face and rolling seas do not allow beach landings. A concrete jetty with a small crane is the only way to make landfall. Hoicking yourself and all your gear from dinghy to slippery concrete steps is like riding a galloping horse while trying to stand up. Timing is critical, ride the swells and understand the movement before making your move. One unlucky blighter stays in the dinghy while the crane is lowered, (having your straps ready first is imperative). Once the hook is secure the crane operator (whoever is standing nearest) can lift the dinghy. A trolley is provided and we all line our dinghies up neatly, it’s like the car park at Woolworths. After just a few shaky starts we are all dab hands at the process. Single-handers manage the feat unassisted.
The hub, once upon a time – A Jewel in the Pacific Ocean
Alofi, Niue’s main town is small, friendly, and funky. The quiet streets carry the good-humoured laughter of local lads shooting pool. Shady trees stand proud outside the popular internet café, under which a boatie or two sits exchanging information as only water gypsies do. Watering holes perch on the headland, where we can peer thirty metres down over our silent boats, creating enticing dreams. Towards the end of the town, square blocks of concrete foundations sit in vivid gardens. Where, once upon a time, houses stood. In 2004, a violent hurricane kicked up waves reaching over the massive rock structure to wash buildings away. The hospital, lives, and dreams were carried away that year. The town is rebuilding but it is a long way from flourishing. Flights to Niue are extraordinarily expensive, much desired tourist trade seems too far out of reach.
Island Adventures and novice novelty
Having a taste of mopeds in Aitutaki (see January’s edition), we are eager to hire bikes and explore this tiny country to see what other gems this jewel has to offer. A small group is organised and three couples hire small, lightweight motorbikes (125cc). James and Ann onboard sailing vessel Novia (meaning Sweat heart) are a typical British couple with an extra dose of daring. James has always wanted to ride a bike but never has. Noel offers a five-minute verbal tuition, forgetting to point out the rear brake. The end of the instruction is finished with a flap of his hand saying “it’s easy, you’ll be right mate” – what James doesn’t realise is that Noel has been riding bikes all his life. James jumps on, starts up, amazingly gets the wheels turning, first go and hoons off straight into a bush. We are all more than slightly relieved he veered right into bushes, instead of left off the cliff face!
James comes back on foot, a few bloody scratches on his cheek. Ann is speechless and none of us know what to say between belly-cramping giggles. “Ahem” starts James, “ready Ann?” All heads turn to Ann with wide eyes. “Yup” she smiles, jumps on board and off they go.
Two days later, at a local fete, James is teaching a fellow boatie how to ride. The stoic single-mindedness and blind bravado of the British lives on.
The empty roads are perfect for novices and old-hands alike. The freedom of flow, where ideas and thoughts enter your mind, surge through and spill out before they take hold causing worry or urges of responsibility, is what’s really neat about motorbikes, a bit like sailing.
The island’s 67km circle road worms through pockets of communities that are nearing extinction. Vacant houses, bolted church doors and limp business signs smother the odd occupied home, where residents try to shut out the failing town with pretty curtains and freshly painted front doors. Each town feels desolate confirmed by the stray hungry dogs, bored grubby kids and obvious lack of money.
On the positive side, hidden down unbeaten trails, Niue hides striking sights. Volcanic moonlike rock topped with skin tearing shards line the path that weaves between heavy jungle. Enormous ugly spiders hang, trapeze in the trees, the females clearly carrying young. Breaking through the foliage the pacified Pacific ocean greets us and we watch the strength of the waves pummel the land. Enterprising locals have built ladders and steps to allow the adventurous to do their thing. Securely tied to a 10 metre sheer drop is a strong wooden ladder. At the foot is an enclosed beach that, after traversing huge boulders, leads to a secret garden. If a mermaid stepped from the water and offered us a rainbow, I don’t think we would have been surprised. In the peaceful silence, vivid climbing greens cling along the sheer rock faces, startling blue, clear pool, urge us in for a cool swim – all a welcome balm to our constantly moving, tired bodies.
Life of farewells
Alas, time ticks on and, again, we have to say farewell. The too familiar hand that squeezes our hearts is back, to remind us of our lot – our life that is full of farewells. The next stop is Tonga where our trusty home and transport, Mariah II has spent summers many years ago. She will complete her circumnavigation here, for Noel and I; we still have some miles to go. It’s funny, as you get closer to home, with more miles and experience under your belt, the more fearful the journey becomes. As we drop the mooring and watch Niue shrink in the distance we know we will never return to this unique, country and are privileged to have had the opportunity to experience this alone little world.
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More pictures below
Arrival/checking in information in 2006: A Jewel in the Pacific Ocean
On arrival contact Niue Radio on VHF16 or 10. Niue Radio keeps a 24 hour watch on VHF.
Clearance services provided by Immigration, Customs, Agriculture and Port Authorities are available daylight hours weekdays, Saturday 10am and 4pm, no clearance on Sunday.
Clearance must be gained before going ashore
The harbour fee per boat is $5.00 per day. A Departure Fee of $25.00 per person is also required, payable to customs.
Water is available at the wharf as well as shower facilities.
Laundry services are available in town.
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Niue is one of the largest upraised coral atolls in the world. Situated in the centre of a triangle of Polynesian islands (Tonga, Western Samoa and the Cook Islands).
The date line is 11 hours behind Greenwich meantime.
Lovingly known as ‘the rock of Polynesia’ the island’s isolation and vivid coral provides personal swimming coves.
The landmass is 259 sq. km.
Nestled within the Southeast trades the average temperatures from April through to November is 24 degrees Celsius, December to March is the cyclone season with an average temperature of 27 degrees Celsius and high humidity.
Through June to November humpback whales visit the coastline on their migration from Antarctica to warmer northern waters.