Niue was a bit of a hidden gem for us. We hadn’t heard much about this place during our travels – few of our friends had visited before and those that have did so many years ago when anchoring was difficult and the island catered very little to general tourism, let alone to cruisers. Now things are a little different. Anchoring at this small exposed island has been made much simpler by the availability of mooring buoys allowing up to 12 boats to safely moor in this less-than-sheltered bay. Having said that, any sea swell coming from anywhere west of south causes the boats here to roll violently. Bob was no exception. Trying to cook dinner on what is comparable to a child’s seesaw (whilst standing up) can get tiring very quickly! I wish I could say that was the worst of our problems but unfortunately the rolling made apparent yet another rigging failure which, under the wrong circumstances, could have lead to the collapse of the entire rig. Whilst having to deal with yet another broken piece of rigging in this remote place is less than ideal, we were grateful that the failure didn’t happen at sea and a simple solution was just round the corner.
Each year more cruisers and tourists visit this unique raised atoll to enjoy all that Niue has to offer. This is the highest atoll in the world and this has led to a rather unusual topography with vibrant coral reefs bordering the island, a network of caves on the coast to be explored and interesting landscapes to scramble around in.
The wildlife here is also very unique with a number of endemic skinks, birds and marine life. The flat-tailed sea snake (locally known as ‘Katuali’) is an endemic species of sea snake found only in Niue. They are locally abundant and their venom, as with all sea snakes, is the one of the most potent in the world and is capable of killing a fully grown adult human with as little as 1.5 milligrams! To make matters worse, I don’t believe there’s an antidote. Luckily, these sea snakes are very friendly and not in the least bit aggressive. Most people are happy to swim with them and I heard that some of the locals playfully ‘tickle’ them in the water – each to their own I suppose! Apparently you would have to stick your fingers right down their throat for them to bite you which is a lucky thing because these little beasts are very curious and would often swim within inches of us when we were snorkelling.
As Niue is the only land mass for hundreds of miles it is also a sanctuary for breeding humpbacks and many tourists visit Niue specifically to swim with the whales. Oma Tafua is a Niuean non-profit organisation dedicated to the protection of marine mammals and literally translated means ‘to treasure whales’. When we first arrived we noticed a sign at the local yacht club (which was run by the wonderful Alexa – a volunteer from New Zealand looking after the place until the commodore returned from vacation) which pleaded to private yacht owners to volunteer their boat to Oma Tafua for a day or two to help with the whale monitoring scheme. We jumped at the chance! Rather than paying lots of money to a tour operator to see the whales we decided to volunteer Bob to the conservation cause. What better way to see the whales than by doing it from your own boat with an organisation whose sole purpose is to protect and conserve these wonderful creatures. I’m surprised more boat owners aren’t jumping at the chance to help with this project – Oma Tafua reimburse fuel and mooring costs, they teach you all about the whales, how to approach them, how their research contributes to conservation and, personally, I can’t think of a more rewarding way to see these magnificent and awe-inspiring animals.
For the first time in my life I saw a whale breach fully out of the water. I was on deck and heard a very loud noise in the distance, almost like a bomb explosion. I quickly looked round to see lots of water ‘mist’ suspended in the air, slowly falling back down to earth about half a mile away from where we were moored. Whales often breach in unison and once the first one does it, others often follow. As I perplexedly looked at the suspended water wondering what had just happened, another enormous humpback leaped clear into the air, rotated its body and landed on its back in the water creating the most enormous splash. Just amazing!
As well as the most incredible wildlife, I was also taken in by how friendly everyone is on this island. Tourism is still new to the people here and perhaps as a result they still see tourists as ‘real people’ rather than having an ‘us and them’ attitude which is unfortunately the case in so many places nowadays. We made some really good friends with the locals in our short 10 day visit and their kindness and generosity is unparallel to anywhere we’ve visited so far. Fia and Alexa were wonderfully welcoming and we really enjoyed hanging out with them. Fia took us to a wildlife presentation she was giving and even offered us the use of her car and a room in her house to sleep in (although we politely declined as we didn’t want to put her out). Alexa was also fabulous, giving us lots of friendly advice, driving us round to get our scuba tanks filled and she even came on board to help out with the whale research. I hope that we’ll see her again soon as she expects to be in New Zealand when we arrive in a few months time.
Finally, we met a really fantastic woman called Nadia when visiting a local hardware store one day at the beginning of our stay. After explaining where we were trying to get to, she offered to take us to our destination when her shift finished in half an hour’s time. We had a great chat with her and even though we didn’t even buy anything from her shop she was more than happy to ferry us to our destination. But that wasn’t all, she insisted on showing us her village and introducing us to her large family. We ended up spending a lot of time with her and her husband (Francis) and their four children over the coming days. We were invited to a barbeque and a family feast and they even spent a day taking us round the island on our own private guided car tour. We were able to repay the favour a little bit by having Nadia and Francis over to Bob for evening drinks and once we fixed Bob’s broken rig, Nadia even helped us take her for a test sail. Despite the fact that Francis is a fisherman Nadia had never before set foot on a boat of any kind. When we had had them both over for an evening drink Nadia had promptly succumbed to sea sickness, so when we had her out again for a sail we made her stand on the dock and eat two ginger snaps and a seasickness pill before she was allowed into the dinghy. This time she was fine, and even proved herself a gifted helmswoman on her very first sailing trip.
We are so grateful to Nadia and her family for making our experience in Niue truly authentic and enjoyable. The people here are fantastic and I wish we could have stayed longer but unfortunately, even with the new moorings, the bay is not suitable for boats to stay for the long term and we were lucky to be able to stay a whole 10 days – most cruisers manage just two or three.