Home    Journal    Boat    Crew    Articles    Links    Contact    Site Map

Niue

Written by Cathy Siegismund
October 2001


We left Rarotonga on Tuesday, September 25. We hated to leave, but the weather looked decent and we have to keep moving or we'll never make it to New Zealand by mid-November. With the help of Stephen and Catherine on Batrachian, we cast off from the quay and set sail for Niue at 1330.

Our route from Rarotonga to Niue

It is about 580-miles from Rarotonga to Niue, so we figured at best we'd have a 5-day passage. For the rest of the afternoon and early evening, we had nice winds of 15 knots with some rain squalls. We had been watching a front that we thought would pass by Rarotonga that evening. We ended up sailing in the front, which had become stationary, for the next 4-days. By that evening, the winds had started to build and for the rest of the passage the winds were 20-25 during the day and 25-30, with gusts into the mid-30's each evening. The wind was behind us from the SE and ESE. This was much better than beating into it, but the the seas built and we had a fairly boisterous passage in 8-10 foot seas. We had some big rolls when a large wave would hit us on the beam, and our cockpit grates did a fair amount of floating as waves would come into the cockpit. I had a rude jolt one night when I was sitting at the nav station with the cockpit hatch closed and the hatchboards in place. A rather large wave broke on the side of the boat sending quite a bit of water over Felicity; a few gallons of which found its way in through some tiny opening in the hatch and onto me and the nav station. Fortunately, I had gotten nervous about spray coming below when I opened the hatch, and had put the laptop away about 20 minutes prior. I stood up shouting about how wet and salty I was; Ken thought I was exaggerating. However, a few hours later on his watch the same thing happened to him. By the end of the trip, we had two dousings of the nav station like this and one of the galley after we jibed.

Despite a wet and boisterous trip, we arrived safely in Niue just after daybreak on Sunday, September 30. Niue does not have a surrounding reef, nor a well protected bay.

Island of Niue with Alofi Bay on the west side

The Niue Yacht Club maintains 14 mooring balls in what is really no more than a bight on the west side of the island by the town of Alofi. All the mooring balls were taken, so we had to anchor in 100-feet of water. All boats on moorings or at anchor are exposed in Niue. The prevailing winds are from the SE, as long as the winds come from an easterly direction boats at Alofi are protected. If the winds shift around to any westerly direction, as they do in bad weather, Alofi Bay becomes dangerous and boats have to leave. Just this year, a boat we know, Alvah Simon's Roger Henry, had to leave in such a hurry he had to leave his dive gear in his rental car ashore.

We got our names on the waiting list for a mooring and relaxed for the day, as we arrived on a Sunday and couldn't check-in until the following day. We had our usual friendly welcome from the Seattle contingent as Jason & Tam on Rainsong, Drew & Vernita on Layla, Wendy & Garth on Velella, and Paul & Suzette on Altair had all arrived a couple of days before we did.

On Monday, we headed ashore to explore the town of Alofi and check-in to the country. Niue is called 'the Rock' as it is really big junk of limestone. There are no beaches and so to land the dinghy you have to use the one commercial wharf on the island. As this is a large wharf, the Niueans have kindly added a crane to lift cruisers' dinghies and other small boats.

Lifting the dinghy at Alofi's commercial pier

Once the dinghy is out of the water, you place it on a handy cart provided and wheel it into place with the other dinghies.

Ken wheeling the dinghy cart

Unusual dinghy dock and crane on Niue

We had another easy check-in process involving short stops at immigration and customs. We then explored the small town of Alofi.

Alofi Harbor

This placid looking bight in the island can turn very nasty when the normally western prevailing winds turn and bad weather rolls in from the east. If this happens, an boats on the moorings or anchored, need to get out fast, or your on a very dangerous lee shore. We fortunately did not see these conditions ourselves, but got this picture from Niue Dive.


Picture from Niue Dive

Picture of the same harbor and wharf and crane seen in the previous picture

A freighter bringing supplies to Niue had arrived and was actually stern tied to the wharf in the middle of the anchorage as it was unloaded

One of the town's public cemeteries overlooking the bay

As we saw on Rarotonga, most of the homes have a family plot on their land.

Shallow limestone pools line the west side of the island

Niue has a similar political structure as the Cook Islands. It is an island nation in free association with New Zealand. This means they have a government that manages their internal affairs, but leave defense and foreign diplomacy to New Zealand. Niueans also carry New Zealand passports. It is true that more Cook Islanders live in New Zealand than live in the Cook Islands, but it was nowhere near as obvious as the similar situation was on Niue.

Visiting Niue is a rather mixed experience. The people are very friendly, the island has fantastic geology and world-class diving, but it still feels like a dying nation. A few years ago the population in Niue was over 5,000; it is now less than 1,600. There are abandoned homes everywhere and you drive through deserted ghost towns as you explore the island. To add insult to injury, the flights to the islands have been cut further by the only major airlines that service the island. With expensive and limited flights and only one open hotel, tourism is even dwindling on Niue. 99% of the tourists we saw were yachties. If you are interested in visiting Niue, see www.niueisland.nu.

With that said, Niue is a wonderful place to visit and has a wide variety of tourist activities if you are of the more adventurous sort. It is not a place to lay on the beach - as there are none.

The main, well, only intersection in Alofi

As we were exploring town, we met up with Ken and Judith on a large cruising catamaran, Sunbow. We had a great fish and chip lunch for $3 USD each and then headed off to meet Mary who is the driving force behind the Niue Yacht Club. Mary and her husband are Kiwis who live in Niue during the winter and live on their boat in New Zealand in the summer. The yacht club has a few local members, but mostly caters to cruisers, providing the moorings as well a other activities. Mary runs the yacht club out of their rental car operation.

Mary and Ken with our new NYC burgee

We joined the Niue Yacht club for a year to help support Mary and her efforts. We also made arrangements to rent a car for a day to explore the island.

We turned in fairly early, as we had signed up for Tali's Cave Tour the following day. Tali is a Niuean who owns property with several cave systems on it. He and his daughter led the group (all cruisers) on a tour of two of his caves.

Tali at the entrance to his first cave, Ulupaka.

See more pictures in the Cave Tour Picture Gallery

Following our cave tour, Tali showed us a couple of his favorite swimming areas. As the island is all limestone and has no beaches tourists and locals swim in shallow limestone pools, in and around the island's many caves.

The first place Tali took us was to Matapa Chasm. We walked down a well tended path from the road to the spectacular chasm. The crystal clear pool is fed by fresh water and the ocean is hidden by the surrounding rock, so all you can hear is the pounding surf.

Matapa Chasm

High cliffs hide the ocean from view

Jason, Ken and Drew make their way out on the limestone

Everyone was washing their feet and shoes in the fresh water stream entering the pool

Limu was our next stop; it is another swimming and snorkeling area. Limu is another area of pools fed by both seawater and fresh water.

Drew and Vernita at the pools at Limu

We were again impressed by how well maintained all of the tourist spots were, considering how few tourists visit Niue. All the tourist spots were well marked with signs on the main road, steps, signs and handrails were all in tip-top shape leading down some of the precarious paths to the tourist spots.

Tali dropped us off back at the wharf late that afternoon. We headed back to the boat to clean up and get ready for a barbeque the Niue Yacht Club was putting on for the cruisers.

   

Niue Yacht Club sponsored a build your own burger BBQ for the visiting cruisers

Most of the cruisers from the 20 or so boats in the anchorage attended. It was a good chance to meet some of the locals as well as get to know a few new cruisers, most of whom are headed to New Zealand.

The following day a group of us had rented cars to explore the island. Drew & Vernita shared a car with Paul & Suzette and we shared one with Wendy & Garth. Jason & Tam followed along on a motorcycle they had rented.

Our first stop was Togo on the east side of the island. We parked the cars off the side of the road, and walked for about 20 minutes down a well marked forest path dotted with coral outcroppings.

Forest path leading to Togo

We then followed a series of steps down through a mass of sinister looking jagged coral pinnacles. It looked like something out of a horror/fantasy movie, more than a creation of nature. The landscape was accentuated by the crashing surf from the 30 knot winds and large seas that often batter the east side of the island.

Concrete path leads you down from the forest through the jagged limestone and coral

Jagged coral pinnacles drop from the forest down to the angry surf

Surf crashing on the coral on the east side of the island

Coral pinnacles and surf stretch along the eastern coast of Niue

Limestone pinnacles and surf stretch along the eastern coast of Niue As stunning as the landscape is, the real treasure of Togo is found if you continue to follow the path to a deep ravine that has the most sand on the island and a small oasis of palm trees.

The Togo Oasis is reached by scaling a long, steep but sturdy ladder

The oasis looks like a Spielberg set from an Indiana Jones movie.

Wendy bravely heading down the ladder

Looking back up the ladder that leads you down to the Togo Oasis

Once you're in the Oasis, you cannot see, but you can hear the pounding surf and occasionally sea foam comes out of caves or floats down over the ravine walls like snow.

   

Sea foam can be seen in one of the caves in the ravine walls

Palms grow out of the sand among the huge coral boulders and shoot up almost to the top of the ravine walls

Ken making his way along one of the narrow paths

Suzette posing for a tropical 'glamour shot' by one of the huge palms

Beyond the palms is a stagnate pond that feeds the tropical foliage in the Togo Oasis

After our hike through Togo, we continued our drive around the island. We hiked down to another tourist spot where we ate lunch overlooking the north east corner of the island.


Photo by Wendy Hinman

Enjoying lunch

We enjoyed our view looking out from the island at the 30+ knot winds and white capped seas, and were thankful we weren't out sailing in it.

We were again struck by how sad the many abandoned homes and villages were as we drove around the island. We were also surprised to see a WWI memorial to the Niueans who fought in the war.

World War I Memorial

Apparently, a number of Niueans fought in WWI. In the local museum, an exhibit described the troops having to adjust to wearing shoes, and their commander begging his superiors to not send the Niuean troops anywhere cold.

Our next stop on our island tour was Talava Arches. To reach the Arches you again follow a coral strewn forest path down to the water. You can there explore the limestone caves, that again look to have been created by Industrial Light and Magic rather than by nature.

   

Suzette and I making our way down a tunnel inside one of the caves

Ken and I in Talava cave

Ken atop a huge coral bolder with a backdrop of limestone cliffs

Ken at the entrance to one of the many caves at Talava

Crystal tide pools flow in and around the caves and arch at Talava

The most amazing part of Talava of course is the tremendous arch, which you can go out to and explore at low tide.

Ken and Garth are dwarfed by the Talava Arch

It was getting late, but as it was not yet dark, we couldn't resist exploring one more cave. We hiked down to Avaiki. This is a swimming hole and cave. Swimming was currently prohibited because a local fish, the Kaloama, was running.

We did enjoy exploring another fantastic cave.

Wendy posing in front of an enormous limestone column

Looking down at Garth from a loft like formation in the cave

   

   

Inside the impressive caves, Ken peeking out from under an enormous stalactite

Unbelievably clear pools at Avaiki would offer fantastic snorkeling

After a full day of exploring, we enjoyed a relaxing night on the boat. The next day we returned the car, checked out of the country for a Saturday departure, and reserved a 3-tank dive trip with Dive Niue for Friday. I had been nursing a burn on my leg from my scooter riding in Rarotonga (locally known as a Rarotongan tattoo), and it finally looked healed enough to hit the water.

Dive Niue was a great dive shop. It is owned and run by Ian and Annie, two Kiwis that now call Niue their home. They had been quite busy all week with a film crew from National Geographic. They were filming the Niuean Sea Snakes for a TV special that will air in 2002.

These sea snakes are black and cream banded and range from about 12-30 inches in length. The paddle-like tail of sea snakes is wide and compressed and makes them very effective swimmers. Unlike eels, sea snakes have no gills and must rise to the surface for air, but they can remain underwater for about 30 minutes if swimming and up to 2 hours if sleeping. They curl up in little knotted balls of snake and sleep on the bottom. When they are swimming you will periodically see them swimming to the surface to grab a gulp of air, which has been described as swimming through snake elevators.

The Niuean sea snakes, like many others, do have an extremely toxic venom. They are however, very docile and in fact have such small mouths about the only way they could bite you is if you jammed your finger down their throats. 

On our morning two-tank dive, Ken and I with two other cruisers led by Annie explored some amazing plate coral. After French Polynesia, where so much of the coral is dead, the bright pastels of Niue's coral and it's 100'+ visibility was a real treat. We then explored an underwater cave which was literally littered with sea snakes. On our afternoon dive, we were joined by Jason and Tam from Rainsong and Paul from Altair. Ian took us out this time, and we went into another cave called called the blow hole. You can surface in the cave and see daylight through a whole in the top of the cave and rib-like ridges along the walls of the cave. The combination of these things give the impression you're in the belly of a whale. We would definitely give Niue two thumbs up for diving.

The rest of the afternoon we washed dive gear and stowed the boat in preparation for our Saturday departure. The strong E and SE winds had settled down some, and it looked like we would have good weather for the 280-mile trip to Tonga.

Copyright 1999-2003. All Rights Reserved.