Written by Cathy Siegismund
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Ken and I in Talava cave
Ken atop a huge coral bolder with a backdrop of limestone
Ken at the entrance to one of the many caves at Talava
Crystal tide pools flow in and around the caves and arch at
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
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
Unbelievably clear pools at Avaiki would offer fantastic
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