Forward ho! Next stop, Niue: 530 nautical miles. Not only
did it sound like a great place, it also was conveniently located along the
way to New Zealand, thus providing us with a handy little break in the journey.
The passage began nicely with the perfect amount of wind from a great direction, complete with sunshine. There seems to be some penance to be paid for good weather (not that sailors are superstitious), so we enjoyed the conditions while they lasted but kept wondering what was in store for us. We did go through a cold front, which brought some increased winds forward of the beam. We therefore had a wetter and less comfortable ride once that hit, but really the passage was all right, and we didn't break anything or discover any new problems. Ignorance is bliss. The rain, when it did fall, supplemented our drinking water supply.
We arrived offshore of Niue at midnight - either too early or too late as we had to wait around for dawn before we were willing to approach land closely. Once we could see the coast, we motored the rest of the way to the bay off the town of Alofi. It wasn't much of a bay and is only considered a good place to park the boat if the winds are coming from the direction of the island, pushing you out towards sea and not creating too large of a swell. We enjoyed the luxury of tying to one of the four mooring buoys in this deep harbour.
Niue 12 - 19 October 2004
What It's Like
The first thing I noticed about Niue was the smell. As soon as we were near enough a beautiful fragrance wafted out from land to entice us. We never did figure out what exactly smelled so good, although as we were walking along areas with lots of wild vegetation we would get whiffs of the same thing. It was some mix of citrusy, spicy, and unidentified exotic smells. I (Barb) was thinking it would be nice if it was bottled so one could sprinkle a little Essence de Niue about, but then I envisioned Niue-shaped air fresheners hanging from car mirrors and somehow it didn't seem as nice.
Niue claims to be the world's smallest independent country, although we're not sure if the Pope agrees with this. In January 2004 it suffered a devastating cyclone. Heta brought huge waves which tore up the coral around the island, and crashed over the 35 metre cliffs, destroying many buildings, including the hospital. It also took out all of the 40 moorings they had, except for one. Three more have since been replaced and they will gradually add more. Nine months later the hospital has still not been rebuilt and one can see the remains of many houses near the coasts. However, one could also see a lot of new houses and construction. In fact, while we were there there was an official opening of a fish processing plant and a Noni farm. It was obvious in many ways that the islanders had been working very hard to rebuild their country, and one could detect some well earned pride in their accomplishments to date.
We were pleased at the amount of services and tourist infrastructure that were available. Radio Niue monitors channel 16 on the VHF and assists with clearing in and out. They will even make phone calls to locate someone for you or make reservations. Many local businesses monitor this channel as well, including Alofi Rentals (rents cars, motorbikes and bicycles), and Dive Niue. There is wireless Internet access which is free to all islanders (just imagine what Bjarne thought of that!). We didn't have the necessary equipment to access it and so had to pay a very reasonable fee to hook up. The folks at the tourist office provided us with various pamphlets and were happy to answer questions. They maintain a log book for visiting cruisers to leave their mark. There is even a Yacht Club, though somewhat diminished since the cyclone. They still sell shirts, hats and burgees, and provide a free shower (fresh water but no heat) and washroom for yachties. The day we were leaving we wanted to get a burgee but the fellow in the tourist office didn't know where the key was to the merchandise or what the cost was.
Provisioning was much better than at the last two places we were at, although we couldn't get everything we wanted. We had difficulty finding flour as most of the stores were out. The local bakery only wanted to sell it in the form of baked bread. Finally we discovered that the local butcher had some wholemeal flour. Why didn't we think of that first? Fresh fruits and veggies were in limited supply because all of the fruit trees etc had been damaged when Heta swept through. The papaya trees were just starting to bear fruit. At the butcher's there was a sign proclaiming that they had limes available. It was clear that this was something new and exciting. Most of the “fresh” stuff was imported from New Zealand and was therefore rather pricey. We were feeling a bit fruit deprived and so were willing to pay over a dollar each for some plums and only slightly wrinkled but very tasty apples.
Niue is world famous for diving as the water clarity is truly amazing. We were moored in about 100 feet and could see the bottom! The loss of most of the live coral in many spots is a real shame from both an environmental and a tourism perspective.
The people were friendly. Most of the people driving by gave a friendly hand wave, or raised their hand or a finger (not that finger!) If we were walking out of town on a long stretch of road, someone would stop and offer us a ride. We even stuck a thumb out once and the first vehicle coming along picked us up. One day when someone was giving me directions, a driver stopped and asked if we needed assistance. When she heard I was getting directions to the grocery store she told me she'd take me as she was going there anyway. She noticed the diesel jerry can I was carrying and insisted on driving me to the petrol station. She also took me to the liquor store, customs office, and police station! We caught up with Bjarne at this point (who had been at the Internet place) and Lava very kindly drove us to the wharf. It was very nice to not have to cart 20 litres of diesel around, along with a bunch of groceries.
What We Did/Things We Saw
We had the good fortune to be overheard at the Internet cafe, discussing our interest in seeing Togo on the southeast coast, a place highly recommended by a few sources. Charlene, who is from Fiji, was in Niue for a few days for some work-related research. She also wanted to to go to Togo but did not want to go by herself. We arranged to head off together the next morning. Charlene had the vehicle and we provided the company and cookies, a combination that worked well for all involved.
Bjarne wrote in our journal:
Togo is about a 15 minute walk from the road along a forest trail that leads to a rough jumbled limestone/coral descent to the water. It is amazingly beautiful because the limestone cliffs have been eroded into thousands of porous pillars and crevices. Equally amazing, many plants have found toeholds in the crevices, making the landscape a nice contrast of green and grays.
At the end of the trail there is a spectacular view of the ocean breaking on the rocks, with spray flinging dozens of metres into the air. A steep climb down a wooden ladder is rewarded by arriving in a small canyon filled with coconut palms growing on a patch of fine white sand. It was one of the most picturesque spots I have ever seen. Exploring a bit off to the side one emerges through a cave to a tidal pool that surges and ebbs noisily as breakers smash on the rocks outside.
Truly, the place was spectacular. The little
sandy oasis with palm trees amid the jagged limestone pillars seemed like
the kind of magical land one reads about in fantasy novels.
Charlene had a report to write so we went our separate ways, after downloading the relevant pictures from her camera. Unfortunately, we had forgotten ours so the photos of this area are all courtesy of Charlene. On to the next fun thing. Dave and Judy from Freebird had offered us the use of their bicycles for that afternoon while they were tootling around in a rental car. Never ones to say no to something free, we happily accepted the offer. It was a bit of a challenge stuffing two bicycles plus ourselves into our dinghy but we were used to tight fits after having had a Firefly car before we left, and living on a 30 foot boat for the last 3 months.
We cycled along the coast, stopping at various spots to explore, particularly where there were signs to indicate a point of interest. It seems there are many caves all over Niue. We saw two of them and they were both fantastic. They were nice and big, with the ocean visible on the other side, so they were no problem for a mildly claustrophobic person.
At the first cave there was a side passage which led to a high cavern with a pool of water, the size of which was maybe about ¾ of a swimming pool. The depth was deceptive because the water was so wonderfully clear. It was only the occasional ripple that let us see where the surface was. Mostly the cave was a sandy tan colour, but where the stalactites hung down one could see layers of colour. If a part had chipped away it looked a bit like one of those blackball jaw breakers we had as kids – the ones where different layers would appear if you could just lick at one spot. It was understandable that this fascinating place was once reserved for Royalty to bathe.
Further down the road there was a path leading down to another cave. Along the trail there were newly built walkways and steps, no doubt replacing ones wiped out by Heta. We admired some lovely burgundy plants which seemed able to grow right out of the limestone. The stalactites in this cave were even more spectacular, as many joined up with their siblings rising from the floor to create lumpy pillars throughout the cave. Along the ocean side pockets of water contained interesting bits of marine life, including some brightly coloured small fish.
Although there were other trails and caves, the day was drawing to a close, and our butts were no longer used to bicycle seats. Thus, we returned to Freya and rested our tuckered selves up for the next day's adventures.
Bright and fairly early we arose the next day (Friday) and gathered up our scuba stuff. We were due at the wharf for 0800h, along with Inge and Wilfrid from the sailboat In Viam. The two owners of the dive shop arrived in their pickup truck to cart the lot of us and our gear to the dive boat. The area we dove in was undamaged by the cyclone, although interestingly it was not as colourful as what we remember from the Caribbean. Annie, our dive master, explained that Niue has more hard coral because there are less nutrients in the water, and that the soft corals, which need a nutrient-rich environment, are more colourful. Everything has some trade off, since less nutrients floating around means the water is incredibly clear. On the first dive the landscape, if that's the right word to use when underwater, consisted of what I thought of as a large coral field gradually sloping up toward the shore, broken by one long gully. The coral may not have been the most colourful, but there were certainly many colourful fish. On the second dive, there were large coral heads about 6 feet or more in diameter and 8 to 10 feet high. These are fun to explore around as there are often many fish hanging out. We swam into a cavern harbouring more marine life, into which the light streamed through from the openings above. There was also a cave which I declined to go into. Bjarne says it was a couple of metres across and didn't feel too crowded (to each one's own I say). The sunlight also filtered it's way into the cave so a flashlight wasn't absolutely necessary. Lobsters were tucked into many crevices. This second dive site was called Snake Gully. The many snakes we saw are poisonous but we read that they have small mouths so they don't generally chomp on people, except maybe on the earlobes (at least that's what the tourists are told). Most of the snakes exhibited little interest in us, although one did swim right at Bjarne for a closer look. It seemed to conclude he wasn't worth the bother☺. We surfaced after about an hour or so, a little chilled but having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
The after-dive urge to relax (diving is surprisingly tiring) was preempted by the need to clear out with customs and immigration, even though we weren't planning on leaving the country for another four days. This unusual situation was a result of the Constitution “Day” celebrations scheduled for the following week – the whole week that is. The schools and other government offices closed for the entire week this year since it was the 30th anniversary of the constitution. With the admin stuff done we had a pleasant evening on Chameleon with the other cruisers at Niue. This cruising life is busy, busy, busy☻.
The Constitution celebrations began Saturday morning. We hitched our way to a village show day, or fair. Although we arrived at 9 for an event that was supposed to start at 8, we were told by the people who got there at 7:30 that a lot of things were already gone by that time. We did play a couple of games in an attempt to win rum or potato chips but our golf skills were not up to par, so to speak. There were fewer crafts on exhibit this year as people had been busy rebuilding their homes and cleaning up from the cyclone. Much of the food for sale smelled very good but since we'd had a large breakfast we only availed ourselves of ice cream (at a very reasonable $1 per cone we ate two each). By the time we were hungry for lunch the food was mostly eaten and the events were almost over. I was hoping to see some local dances but there didn't seem to be any performances at this event. We were told Thursday was the big show day but we weren't staying that long.
The next big celebration day was Tuesday, the official Constitution day. We landed at the wharf amidst fishermen coming in with their catch for the fishing competition. One fellow who was watching and waiting told us there were good deals to be had when the competitors sold off some of their catch. We began walking to the flag raising ceremony but were soon offered a ride to the gym where it was being held; we cleverly arrived shortly before all of the speeches ended and the food was served. The parts of the speeches we could understand had a lot of acknowledgment and praise for the hard work done by the Niue people over the last 8 months, and also seemed to speak optimistically about the future. Once the official stuff was done, people were quite festive. We stayed long enough to enjoy the munchies and free cold drinks, and then headed off to see the canoe races. On the way back to the wharf, one of the people that gave us a lift also gave us her flower necklace, and a wreath made out of leaves. They both had a lovely fragrance, which we enjoyed as we watched the canoe races. The canoes are more properly called pirogues and look much like narrow kayaks with an outrigger. Many people gathered on the wharf for this event. Again, we were told there were less participants than usual this year as canoe-building had been a lower priority. The first race was the longest and perhaps most serious, although not so serious that the race couldn't be delayed for a late competitor. Some of the next races were for kids, and the last race was a fun one with four-person rafts made out of a hodge podge of floating (or mostly floating) materials.
In preparation for departure (aside from stocking up at the duty free liquor shop ☺) we dug out our long undies and sweaters. It seems funny to think that heading south means it will be getting colder. I was hoping our Canadian blood hadn't thinned too much yet. Surprise, surprise, a few months on a boat is not good for clothing. Metal zippers on the bags were seized shut with corrosion. It took a good bit of effort and vinegar to get the darn zippers open only to find that much of the clothing was smelly with mildew. We did find some warm clothes that survived unscathed (generally those in ziplocks, rather than tote bags that seemed water-resistant) and stuffed the rest back into the bags to be dealt with in New Zealand, where there are washing machines.
As we sailed away from Niue, we tossed our flower necklace overboard, in keeping with a Hawaiian belief that it is bad luck to take your leis with you. We could have easily stayed longer at this lovely island with its friendly people.
By the way, the mystery of our lost flag was solved. Freebird delivered a message from Robert on Evelyn Roberts at Suwarrow, communicated by SSB, asking if we'd lost our flag. It was found washed up on shore at Suwarrow the day after we left. We were very excited to think that we would get it back when Robert arrived at Niue. Alas, because a message wasn't sent back to confirm it was ours, and the fellows at Suwarrow wanted it for the “Yacht Club”, the flag stayed there. Drat. We'll just make do with the little one we have. After all, you know what they say about size...