Adina finally got to take a break from sailing through the so called ‘Dangerous Middle’ of the Pacific Ocean after 7 days at sea. We arrived in Niue just after midday on Sunday 17th August and radioed the port officials knowing full well it was a Sunday and no work is carried out due to it being a holy day. Through came the charming voice of a lady who took our details and advised we could check in on Monday. She finished with a lovely “Welcome to Niue and we hope you enjoy your stay”. Don’t you just wish more countries did that? And it really did set the trend for our visit for the coming days.
Niue is one of the world’s smallest countries and lays claim to being the world’s largest raised coral atoll. The population is around 1300 and the road that circumnavigates the island is 62 miles long. There are just two flights a week from New Zealand and the country receives various financial support from New Zealand. In fact the sad truth is that most of the islanders have left for the bright lights of New Zealand where they are entitled to citizenship and we saw evidence of this in the many abandoned homes. Being a little tired from our voyage, we settled in to tidying up the boat. Friends David and Brenda on their boat Bandit, who we had last seen in the Galapagos, had been in Niue a few days already and after finishing up their sightseeing for the day popped over for a cup of afternoon tea. A few hours later and we visited them for a sundowner and Brenda kindly gave us a list of island highlights.
Unlike a lot of Pacific islands, Niue does not have an outlying reef and have put in 19 very secure mooring buoys on the west side of the island for visiting yachts to secure to. So your only protection is in the lee of the island and should the winds go west or south you need to be prepared to depart. As it was it was still rolly but we didn’t mind and slept like logs on our first night. Monday morning and Bandit gave us a lift to the wharf on their dinghy.
Niue is famous with yachties for its dinghy crane which you use to hoist your dinghy out of the water and up on to the wharf. People describe it as anything from tolerable to downright dangerous if any swell comes in! Coming alongside the wall of the wharf, one of you jumps out and climbs steps or a ladder to manage the control for the crane. The other person stays in the dinghy and secures the crane hook to the dinghy’s bridle. You then either jump out or, if you trust your dinghy ropes, get hoisted up with the dinghy. Swing your dinghy onto land and then detach, lower and leave the hook for the next person. Easy in calm conditions but hair-raising when a swell comes in and you need to time it so as not to be smashed into the wharf wall. Customs and immigration come to the wharf and check-in is done in the back of a van. Job done, simple! Bandit showed us the ropes of the island (including a good coffee shop with great coffee and even better muffins) and we took over their hire car. It looked like the weather might turn soon, meaning the mooring buoys would become untenable, so we set to seeing the sights!
Niue is primarily famous for its sea tracks and crystal clear water. It was also whale watching season and we did get to see a few ‘There she blows!’ humpback whales as they surfaced to get air. They are known to come into the harbour and one night we could hear them blowing very close to our boat. The sea tracks surround the island and while each one is slightly different they all involve a walk down the coral to the coast. It’s ever so odd as you walk through a forest where the ground is all coral uplifted from the sea many, many years ago. Some sea tracks involve climbing down ladders to sea level. All are fabulous and our favourites were the ones with pools you could snorkel in.
In the meantime friends on other boats were slowly pulling in. Laurie and Sonya with their three children on Moana Roa arrived, followed shortly by Tom and Dirk on Dancing Bear. The obligatory sundowners on Adina first. Tom and Dirk hitched a ride with us for more sight-seeing and sea tracks the next day. Niue is renowned for its sea snakes and we were keen to spot them. Highly venomous, they are however docile and being poorly sighted and with small mouths you can theoretically approach them safely. On one snorkel we started to see them and Susie saw one swim into a small cave. In I went, there it was, and while I count myself an adventurous snorkeller I thought to myself “confined space, wild animal, me, not the best idea.” Dirk had been following me snorkelling and then appeared. “Confined space, wild animal, two humans, about-turn.”
Niue also has a rather unique yacht club. It owns no boats, has no marina, has more members than the entire population and indeed the friendly commodore Keith has never been on a sailing boat. Visiting sailors can join for life! But like the rest of the islanders, the club was incredibly welcoming. Keith re-assured us about the up-and-coming westerly winds and looking at weather reports we established we could stay a few more days.
So the next day we went diving in search of sea snakes at a dive site called “Sea Snake Gully”. Neither of us have ever dived in such crystal clear waters. And as for the sea snakes – wonderful. We were told not to interfere with them as they surfaced for air or when they dropped back down, but otherwise not to fear anything. Our favourite view was when you had five or six of them heading up for air in blue blue waters.
Back in town, our friends Mike and Carol on their boat Tashi Delek had arrived. We’ve become good friends and it was a delight to see them again. That night there were four boats on the catamaran Moana Roa for sundowners. One of their boys Travis is making his own lures and made one for us. We’ve now ordered some more as we are told they attract fish!
The next day we set off exploring more sights with Mike and Carol, enjoying the wonderful scenery and the delightful people. Both were keen to see a sea snake and we found one in a cave. Carol is still not living down her comment “But it looks like a snake” to which Mike, astounded, replies “But it is a snake. What did you expect? I can’t believe you said that!”. Mike and Carol have a great sense of humour and we do enjoy spending time with them.
Niue actually stands for ‘Behold Coconuts’ and we loved that name varying between thinking it was just set for a Monty Python sketch or we would even name our next boats ‘Behold Coconuts’. Can you imagine checking in with somewhere like Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight “Yarmouth Harbour Master, Yarmouth Harbour Master, Yarmouth Harbour Master, this is Behold Coconuts, Behold Coconuts, Behold Coconuts.” I’d bet my life there would be silence as they pick themselves up off the floor from laughter!
Time flew by and we were soon having to check out, the islanders in customs and immigration walking around a modern office with desks and computers built by New Zealanders in their casual shirts, shorts and bare feet. Five of us were leaving together due to forecast high seas coming in. We all set off trying to judge our boat speeds and arrive in Tonga in daylight.
Like everyone who visits Niue we had been utterly charmed by it and could have spent a lot more time there. We radioed to announce our departure and offer thanks. Back came the charming soft voice “We wish you a safe voyage. Thank you for visiting our island, we hope you had a nice stay and will return one day”. Beautiful and we would certainly like to return one day.