After nine days at sea, we found the tiny island of Niue, the only bit of land for hundreds of miles around. It was 2 am when we arrived off the main town of Alofi and picked up one of the moorings maintained by the Niue Yacht Club. Our night approach was easy: Niue no longer has a fringing reef and there’s no danger of running into anything other than the island itself. Niue is a former atoll that’s had it’s entire coral center pushed 150 feet or so straight up into the sky. The island’s edges are now littered with caves, chasms, and crystal clear pools before what remains of the surrounding coral reefs drops steeply into the ocean for thousands of feet. We were excited to see this petite island nation for ourselves, and beginning when we woke up in the morning a few hours after our arrival we found many reasons to love this island.
1. Niue’s Clear Blue Sea
Niue is affectionately known as “The Rock” as the whole island is basically a huge chunk of coral limestone. It has no rivers or streams and very little soil resulting in little to no runoff. What this means is that the waters surrounding Niue are absolutely crystal clear. When we looked around on our first morning on Niue we were awestruck by the clarity of the water around us. We could see the bottom 120 feet below our keel! The strikingly pure shades of blue of the seas around Niue are the most beautiful and otherworldly we’ve ever seen.
2. The Wharf Crane
Before we arrived here, we’d heard horror stories about Niue’s wharf. We’d heard it was pummeled by swell, you had to climb a slippery, rickety ladder 50 feet up and then you had to use a cranky old crane to actually hoist your dinghy up after you. I have no idea how these rumors get started. Niue’s wharf is the best we’ve encountered in the Pacific: all four of us can easily step right off the dinghy onto a sturdy concrete staircase and climb the five stairs with good handholds all the way up. The crane is a blast to use: you simply hook it onto your dinghy’s lifting bridle, use the controls to hoist the dinghy up into the air and swing it over onto a wheeled trolley, then park the dinghy amongst the others lined up on the wharf nearby. Truly the most fun dinghy-parking experience so far.
2. The Check-In Process
Right after we hoisted our dinghy onto the wharf for the first time, we were met right next to the crane by two customs agents, each of which had us fill out a short form. 10 minutes later we were driven by Keith, the super friendly and helpful local SSCA representative, up the road to the police station (with a quick tour of the town of Alofi on the way). Here we filled out another short form and we each got our passports stamped. Check-in done, literally minutes after we’d begun the process.
3. The Niue Yacht Club
We left the police station after completing our check-in and wandered a few hundred meters down the road to the Niue Yacht Club. This place deserves a list of it’s own but I’ll just have to start by saying how impressed we are with the 14 heavy-duty moorings the club maintains (it is nearly impossible to anchor here due to the depths and coral-choked sea floor). The mooring balls are even covered with reflective tape to make them easy to find for boats coming in at night like we did. The club itself in town is a wonderful, comfortable place to hang out with very friendly owners, a huge book exchange, free internet, a fridge stocked with cold beers and sodas, and potluck events.
4. Fish & Chips
Niue is a “self-governing nation with free association with New Zealand.” What we hoped this meant was excellent fish and chips and we are happy to report that indeed we enjoyed amazing fried wahoo and chips washed down with New Zealand beer on our very first day here. Yum.
5. A Little Piece of New Zealand
Besides the fish & chips, it has been a thrill to experience a little preview of what New Zealand holds for us here in Niue. Everyone on the island speaks English (with a Kiwi accent to boot!), which is thrilling after our Spanish didn’t help us much in French Polynesia in terms of getting to know local people. Most of the food products in the grocery stores are from NZ and you have to be careful when crossing the street as it’s left-side driving here!
6. The Playground
During our sail from Maupiti to Niue we read through the Niue chapter in our Lonely Planet South Pacific several times (it is short). I noted that there was reportedly a playground in Alofi and informed Holly of such. Each day after, several times each day she asked me to confirm that we were indeed going to an island with a playground. Happily we found the reported playground just south of the main town and although simple and sun-worn both girls were thrilled to climb and swing and just play here. Holly gives Niue a thumbs-up.
Once you walk up the hill from the wharf and set off down the main road you can’t help but notice the graves. They are scattered all along the road, all the way around the island. They are varied: there are old, broken unidentified stone ones, there are new ones with fancy headstones with pictures and stories of the occupant. Many have silk flowers draped across them. Some have whole structures built on top to protect the graves. There are a great many more graves than people on this island that struggles to maintain it’s population: the elderly lost to the graves, the youth lost to New Zealand where everyone here has citizenship. The graves are not creepy at all though, even though they are everywhere. Rather it adds to the air of ancient history that is evident everywhere on Niue, both of the island’s geology and also the stories of the families that have lived here for a thousand years. Powerful reminders of time passing.
8. The Friendliest Island in the World
With a fledgling tourist industry, visitors are still novel in Niue. Each time we walk through town we are stopped by local residents who ask where we are from and how we got here and they are truly interested. Everyone waves as they drive by, whether you pass by on foot or car. Last Sunday we wanted to get down to Avatele Beach on the southwest corner of the island so had the girls stick their thumbs out. Within minutes we had a ride from a local fellow. It turned out he wasn’t really heading that way though and was planning on turning right around and driving back to town after dropping us off 15 minutes down the road.
9. Washaway Cafe
What’s not to love about a bar where you help yourself to ice-cold New Zealand beer from a fridge and write down what you took on a piece of paper? And has burgers topped with beets and fried eggs? And has a snorkeling beach right in front? And is the only place on the island open on Sunday? And has a steady stream of fellow sailors also stopping in?
10. A Birthday For Our Captain
Michael celebrated his 38th birthday here on Niue. It was a marvelous day with Dutch babies with French strawberry jam for breakfast, a bit of snorkeling off a tiny sandy pocket beach, dinner at Gill’s Indian Restaurant (the best Indian food we’ve ever had!), chocolate-chip cookie “cake” and two giddy girls who absolutely love celebrating anyone’s birthday, anywhere. But here in Niue, more special for sure.
11. Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road
If you need to practice driving on the left-hand side of the road, Niue’s the place to do it as I don’t think the island has ever had a traffic jam. Although most of the island’s main road is only a single lane, it’s good practice to pull to the left to let another car pass by.
12. Sea Tracks
16. The Mischievous Whales
Humpback whales are known to frolic amongst the boats moored here in Alofi although the local residents say there haven’t been many sightings so far this season. We haven’t seen them either, but we have heard blows and tail/fluke slapping during the late evenings so we know they are here. Yesterday, our friends on Knotty Lady awoke to find a whale had visited their boat while they’d been out in town the evening before. What they found was essentially all their bow hardware torn off their boat and dangling underwater: their anchor roller, anchor chain, cleats, mooring lines, furled Code 0 sail, bow pulpit and anchor locker door torn clear off. The best anyone can guess is a whale got caught up in their mooring and had to struggle dearly to get free. The damage is breathtaking: whales are strong, much stronger than most boats. Thankfully, the whale clearly got free and Knotty Lady will be repaired and will sail on.
By noon of the day after the whale damaged Knotty Lady, the entire island had heard of the incident. Their sail was drying ashore in the afternoon. By evening, bent stainless steel parts were already ashore at local Niuean shops who’d volunteered to rebend and repair the pieces. A meeting was set up this morning for sailors to gather and discuss what supplies we each had that could help repair the extensive damage to Knotty Lady’s bow fiberglass and by this afternoon epoxy was curing. Niueans and cruising sailors pitching in without hesitation to help a fellow friend in need. That’s the beauty of life hundreds of miles from anywhere but here with each other.