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NIUE TRIP REPORT
“THE REMARKABLE ROCK OF POLYNESIA”
By Greg (Islandboi) from Canada
*A note to the readers: These are my impressions of Niue only as a visitor and may not be representative of all views.
It is truly remarkable that Niue exists. Not as an island, of course, but as an independent nation. No other nation on the planet except perhaps the Holy See claims so small a population and such a subsidized life. Only 1700 people cling to this coral rock hundreds of kilometres from the next piece of land or island and it feels (and is) seriously remote. When one arrives on Niue, your first though is, “Hmm, this island MUST belong to someone else”. It’s status as an independent entity does not quite seem plausible. Yet, all the signs are there that you are indeed in a sovereign nation. There’s a premier (with his own parking stall and a fondness for Steinlager at the Pacific Way Bar), a parliament, and all the various ministries and departments are there dealing their bureaucracy in the same serious manner as any government agency in Canada, America or New Zealand. There’s even a very official looking stamp in my passport stamped by a very friendly and proud young man in his crisp uniform very ostensibly communicating to me that I am now “Nuie Arrived.. February 7, 2006”.
Niue is, however, not a de facto independent nation... Only in being in free association with New Zealand has this little dot of land been able to exist and shout it’s name to the world. It may be compared to a teenager, living on his own, away from his parent’s house in his own space with his own brand of independence written all over his being, when in actuality Mom and Pop are paying the bills, making the important decisions and putting the petrol in his car. . Niueans know this too... that this is the only way they can exist. Nobody seemed to be yelling too loudly for more independence and from my perspective, the status quo seemed to suit everyone just fine, thank you very much. There are no Niuean passports, of course, only NZ ones... a fact that has led to it’s own demise... more than half of the population has fled to New Zealand since “independence” in 1974.
This does not make Niue any less interesting...In fact, if anything, it adds to the mystique of this tiny Makatea island that is only 64 kilometres around, so cut off , so lonely and so different from even its close Polynesian family members in Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands.
Niue is very much like that eccentric cousin one only sees at 10- year family reunions; sitting in the background.. always looking to see if his older brother is checking up on him... a loner, wearing miss-matched clothes, being very sensible not to drink too much punch like his more raucous island cousins and socializing in his own friendly and charming way to those who seek him out.. and then only on his own terms.
I arrived in Niue after some quick deliberation in rain-sodden Samoa. After seeing nothing for weeks but leaden skies, flooded roads and soggy personalities, I decided on quite the spur of the moment, to flee to a physically flatter and perhaps drier locale. Now that it is feasible and economical to fly from Apia to Niue, I felt the opportunity could not be better to visit. A quick visit to Island Hopper vacations in Apia was all I needed to do and I was on the next flight to Niue.
The ticket cost me just over $730 Samoan Tala (approx. $360 Canadian dollars) which I thought was reasonable considering the distance and the destination. I was to leave on February 7th.
A word of warning to those who are embarking on a trip to Niue from Samoa. Polynesian Airlines is your link...Any of you who have lived or travelled in this part of Oceania are probably all too familiar with this carrier and it’s sorted reputation... All the rumours you have heard about Polynesian are true...It is a dreadful airline.
Check in at Faleolo International Airport in Samoa was interesting. The Poly check in staff were surly, apathetic and totally unprofessional... A situation I had never encounter in Polynesia anywhere so it was quite a shock.
We were soon on our way to Niue via American Samoa. The little Dash-8 was packed. I thought this was wonderful that so many Niueans were returning home for a visit. Little did I know that all of them, save 5 of us, were Samoans headed to Pago Pago and would disembark there. After a transit stop in Pago we were on our way to Niue.. On board there was a holidaying young couple from Australia, a Samoan woman and what looked to be her granddaughter and myself... Not one Niuean was on board. Oh yes, and a flight attendant who did her best to hide from us.. there was no safety demonstration, no telling us to have our seats and trays in the upright, locked position and certainly no comforting words from her or the flight crew as we flew headways into a tumultuous and black thunderhead somewhere between here and there...There was nothing except a packet of stale Taro chips and some off-flavoured Orchy drink that was only given to us after the Australian fellow went up front and asked if we could have something. (!!!)
Approaching Niue, the sun came out, shocking all of us and the verdant island itself came into full view... very solid looking against the deep blue of the Pacific.
Landing at Hanan Interenational airport was uneventful. It’s a tiny airport but customs and immigration are as efficient and thorough as anywhere. Prepare for a bag search... I got a soup to nuts one here.. all conducted by a very friendly and polite immigration officer, who in between looking at my Rexona and squeezing the toothpaste, asked such questions as “How did you hear about Niue?” or “Do you have friends or family here?” or “Is it really cold in Canada?” It was one of the least intimidating experiences I have ever had entering a country despite the fine toothed comb search.
I had emailed a guesthouse in Alofi, Niue’s main town and capital. The server in Samoa let me down and the email was not received so there was no one there to pick me up. Now, this is where Niuean hospitality and friendliness comes in...A young lady, hanging about the airport terminal for what ever reason, decided I needed a ride to Kololi’s guest house and we were on our way.
Kololi’s Guest House is a fine place to stay and looks to be like the pick of the crop for Alofi guesthouses. Neale and Rupina are your hosts and are very friendly and accommodating.
The spacious main house has rooms for $35NZ (NZ dollars is the currency here just like the Cooks... Samoa Tala are used as kindling for Umu fires in Niue, so exchange them back in Apia!).
The guesthouse was full with of friendly workers and tradesmen building the new hospital here, unfortunately, so I had to opt for a more expensive bungalow.. They are normally $NZ95/night, but I got a weekly rate, so you try to negotiate the price with Neale if things are slow. I decided Niue would be the splurge for my 2 1/2 month South Pacific tour.
The bungalow was great... all brand new... fully equipped kitchen, 2 bedrooms with comfortable beds, good bathroom with shower (and hot water!!...yeah!) and a pleasant lounge and front deck area for sitting in the evening (Don’t forget your Aeroguard when in Niue... the mozzies are as friendly as the locals).
By the way...Thanks, Mark (Crossie) for being that link in between Neale and me... much appreciated!
Kololi’s guesthouse is worth ****1/2 out of five in my books.
It takes 2 minutes to walk to the centre of town. Centre is relative Alofi has the same population (about 700) as my home town in Saskatchewan and is remarkably similar... One main/high street.. there’s the store and a few other shops, the post office, the butcher, Telecom office and the police station. A few cafes are thrown in and a couple of places to wet your whistle.
I had some uncertain moments (the only nail-biting I ever did in Niue!) when cashing some traveller’s cheques into NZ$ at the local bank. This bank was once a Westpac and is now a branch of the Bank SouthPacific, a Fijian enterprise. When I initially asked if there would be any difficulty cashing Canadian dollar cheques into New Zealand currency, the smiling teller said “No problem...all major currencies are accepted and exchanged” Once I had the cheques out though and on the wicket, a very long process of deliberation between all the employees of this branch ensued.... 20 minutes and a ridiculous transaction fee later I walked out with my cash in hand... very nervously thinking how I may have had to spend the duration of my Niuean visit sleeping in the bush and eating coconuts if they had decided to not exchange the cheques for whatever reason. You may want to get your NZ dollars in Samoa before you come here... The banks in Apia are perhaps a little more used to tourists and foreign currency so there would be no problem there. There are no ATMs on Niue, although I was told one was in the works at the bank.
A good thing to remember too, is that Niue is very much a cash society. Eftpos/ Interac aren’t used much and only the Matavai resort and a few other places take credit cards. The guesthouses, cafes, bars and stores are cash. Keep this in mind when you visit.
Everywhere I went people smiled and waved...I thought my arm was going to fall off. I can’t even begin to count how many times I was asked where I was from and what brought me to Niue... even on the first day. Everyone wanted to chat and had the time to do it. I could see this as a blessing for the friendly tourist, a curse to those who wanted privacy and live in the shadows here. This is truly the friendliest place I have ever been to anywhere in the world.
A short walk from the guesthouse to Swan Son’s supermarket gave me an opportunity to stock the larder of my bungalow. Supplies in Nuie are quite expensive... and selection is limited as there are just not enough people on the island, I suppose, to warrant stocks of luxury goods or vast amounts of even everyday items. Something tells me that if the ships can’t make it for whatever reason, the shelves on island stores would be very bare very quickly. The whole ambiance, pace, society and economy of Niue was very reminiscent of Aitutaki in the Cooks...sans One Foot Island and the Teking lagoon cruises.
One nice thing about Niue is that the water is deep bore well water (at least at Kololi‘s)... It’s cold, full of minerals, tastes really good and is safe to drink... I didn’t need to buy bottled water here. A nice change from the tasteless, rather expensive bottled water of Samoa or the tepid, odd-flavoured rain water in outpost Tonga.
There is a local market in town that is held twice a week... Most of the folks that attend are there more for the socializing than actual engagement in commerce. There isn’t much to be purchased anyways. Niueans live in a consumer society evidently and there seems to be too much money around to warrant slaving away in a plantation for your primary source of food and income like one would be doing in Tonga or Samoa. I even had trouble getting bananas! The selection of local produce is limited to taro, coconuts a few very expensive (although lovely) handicrafts and not much else. No one seems to eat the papayas that are everywhere and they usually just fall on the ground to rot or are fed to pigs. There were no fish as the sea had been too rough to go out at the time.
There were no other fruits or vegetable at all. In Nuie, you may end up eating a lot of tinned or frozen veggies and the fruit you eat may be in the form of imported NZ apples and oranges or tinned pineapple. It’s hard to believe on this little tropical island that so little produce is grown.
After walking around Alofi in the searing tropical heat and humidity, I decided I needed wheels. I went to Alofi Rentals where I got myself a nice,shiny Yamaha 250 motorbike... Not a scooter, but a real motorcycle. If you have ever wanted to learn to ride a bike, Niue is a great place to do it... The roads are all in excellent condition, there is little traffic and few hazards like dogs or waddling hogs to deal with. The bike was $25 NZ per day but be forewarned that the rental place does not carry any liability insurance. You will be responsible for the first $1000 damage to the bike if you have an accident. The police all look very professional and respectable looking here (They DON’T wave when they pass you) and road rules seem to be followed and enforced here... You will need to wear a helmet (comes with the bike rental), be courteous and keep the speed to the posted limits. The bikes are in excellent condition and you can rent pushbikes and cars here too.
You are required to get a Niue drivers license. They cost $10 and make a great souvenir all laminated up and pretty...All you need is your license from home. I got a motorbike validation even though I haven’t ridden a motorbike for 20 years. The lady who stamps your passport also works at the police station... You will get to know her well if you are in Niue for more than a few days (She also does a shift at Radio Niue, too!!... This is a multi-tasking society, folks. When you leave Niue, she knows ALL about you, where you’ve been, where you’ve been staying and what brand of beans you buy at Swan Sons!! She‘s a sweetheart...)
Eating out in Niue does not leave a lot of options. I self catered for the most part as I had the cooking facilities. Swan Sons IS the supermarket. It’s like a small town store, but they have most items you’d need. There is also a small shop in the “shopping centre” in the town centre that has a big selection of frozen meats and other things. These frozen items are very expensive, although they did have a run on small frozen chickens for $5 a piece... They were good for 2 meals. Needless to say, I ate a lot of chicken in Niue and became quite creative in preparing it (The Film “Forrest Gump” comes to mind... “We got fried shrimp, baked shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp cocktail, pineapple shrimp...).
There are also a few other small shops in town that carry basic supples.
If you wanted to veer away from cooking yourself and taking some of your meals out, there are only a few options in Niue. There are several cafes, two of which I really enjoyed going to as their food was good and the company excellant.
The Crazy Uga is a little round shed sitting across from the Police station overlooking the sea. Keith is the main man here who can whip you up a good flat white (or other excellent brews) and some fair grub. It is open later too so can come have a burger and a beer after you’ve had too many beer at the Pacific Way bar.
The Cafe Falala Fa is not a bad joint with a semi-funky feel. It is also on the main drag just south of the town centre. It is a popular place especially for lunch and the food is good although pretty damned expensive ($9 for a toasted sandwich that came with nothing else... no chips or salad).
The Washaway Cafe is a fair hike south of town at Avetele beach. It is a pretty spot (you can snorkel here...kind of) and the folks who run it are super friendly and the food is good and the beer is cheap. It has a look more like a beachside bar one would see in Mexico or Thailand. Good place to come on Sunday when everything else is closed.
The Matavai resort looks like a nice place (made even more attractive by Mr. Cross’s incredible art!)
Although I did not eat or stay here, the bar is pleasant and this is the best option for visitors to Niue who want something upscale. They only had a handful of guests staying there.
There are a few other places to eat in town like Jenna’s cafe and Mataki’s bakery and cafe. They are not exceptional places to eat, but are okay for a quick bite, I suppose.
When you are cruising around Niue on your bike, stop at the Israel Mart in Avetele as well for an excellent cream cone that comes in many flavours.
Places to drink: There are a few. I had my beers at the Pacific Way bar which seems to be the most popular “local”. Come in and have a Lion Red or a Steiny (beer is dangerously cheap in Niue... go figure) and visit with the local expats or maybe even the Premier if he is so inclined to come in for one. I had a great visit with him and found out his daughter (sister?) lives in Kitchener, Ontario and that there are quite a few Niueans in Canada. Where in the world can you drink with the leader of the country???
There was an empty chair on one side of the table that no one would sit it... Would it have been Mark’s chair????
Clayton’s bar just a bit further into town looks like more of a night place.. I didn’t go.
The bar at the Matevai is very nice and the Washaway is a drinkable place. I also saw a bar at the motel at the Coral Gardens motel. There is also the Bond shop in town where you can get your duty free booze.
There is not a lot to do on Niue and this was it’s primary attraction for me. There are some really interesting caves and rock formations around the island at various, well-maintained sites. (The Togo and Matapa chasms are really cool).
There is good snorkelling at Limu pools... I mean REALLY good snorkelling. The most incredible water clarity I have ever seen and the fish were in technicolour. The black and white sea snakes, although unnerving at first, actually become charming after a while. Avaiki cave is also very intriguing.
The sea was very rough for almost the whole time I was there, so water-based activities were limited. I wanted to go snorkelling/diving with the friendly folks at Dive Niue (right beside the Matavai resort) but the conditions were never calm enough.
Of course, being interested in botany and horticulture led me to some esoteric adventures like some botanical hikes in the forest reserve and a visit to the Crop research station at Vaipapahi. I also had to pop into that palatial looking Noni plantation (Niue’s next boom may be the Noni rush.. A lot of money has been dumped into here, boy... I hope it pans out and that my dad and all his old cronies here in Canada and elsewhere continue to choke down their daily morning ration of the vile juice.) It had the feel of an old cotton plantation in Alabama... driving off the main road onto the hibiscus-lined access road lined with palms and with rows of bent figures labouring away around the Noni seedlings, it was hard not to imagine hearing “We Shall Overcome” or “Old Man River” being sung in the distance.
Some final thoughts onNiue:
It is the most friendly and one of the most enjoyable places I have ever been to. No, there is not a lot to do here and that was it’s charm for me. I enjoyed spending hours being alone (something that is almost impossible to do in Samoa) just biking around the well maintained roads, talking with everyone and hiking to the chasms, cliffs and caves and through the rain forest.
Thank you Niue for a truly wonderful and enchanting time!... I would return anytime (I would fly Air NZ this time, though!!)
I felt like I was home...
Traveler: Accepts and adjusts to local culture.
Tourist: Makes local culture meet his or her needs.
Rock on Polynesia
A report from Nicholas Irvine from the USA, May 09
Getting to Niue might seem difficult, but it is actually rather simple. There is one flight a week on Air New Zealand from Auckland. But what is interesting about the flight is crossing the International Date Line. When I left Auckland at around 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning I arrived in Niue about 2:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. So, it is easy to get here, but rather confusing.
Niue has a main road that goes around the island, through small villages with spectacular views. Because of the 20-40 tourists on the island each week, there isn’t a public transport system. I found, as did my new mate Josh, the best way to get around the island is on a Suzuki motorcycle. In many parts the road is only one lane and quickly changes over to gravel, but the maximum speed limit of 60 kph, makes the uneven roads seem easy. Plus, renting a motorcycle is easy and only requires the purchase of a Niue Drivers License for $11.30 NZD. There are also car options starting at around $45.00 NZD per day. Even a few people use bikes, which are even less expensive to run.
Christian worship services seem very important to the people of the country. There are churches in nearly every small village, and the people make the churches quite attractive. Since, I was staying in Alofi, the church bells for the local Presbyterian congregation start ringing at 9:00 a.m. a warning bell chimes at 9:30 a.m. with the service beginning at 10:00 a.m. The service I attended was full of music with most of it being conducted in the native Niuean language.
Oh, and the hats. The cute older women and even a few of the younger ones are well dressed including a hat on the top of the head. I believe that some of them may have even constructed the hat themselves.
Sunday is also a day of rest. The country does not allow swimming, fishing, or diving in the waters on Sunday. Josh and I went on a long walk around and found nothing open and the streets and roads deserted. We did find one place that allowed us to buy some much-needed water to help us through the tropical heat.
We obtained our Niue drivers license and picked up the motorcycles and headed out. We started by heading north from Alofi to the Palaha Cave near Tuapa Village. After walking down a steep hill we came across what we thought was a small cave. Further exploration revealed a rather large cave that opened up to the ocean. It was massive, stunning, and indescribable.
We continued further north to the Limu Pools for some much needed time in the water. Because Niue is a coral atoll there is very little beach space, but plenty of swimming spots. We got into the clear, blue water and had a look around. The fish were swimming around our toes and it was incredibly relaxing.
Following the pools, we headed back towards Alofi to find some food, which was some great Indian Chicken Moti, yummy and then went south. Our first stop south was near the Tamakautoga Village and the Togulu Sea Track. The old coral in this area makes for a spectacular view of the ocean as well as shallow enough for some great photos of the scenery.
We finished up the journey following the road even further south past one of the farms and to the Hakupu Village. Beyond there the road got a wee bit difficult until we found, but haven’t seen the famous Togo Chasm. We road back to Hakupu and then a short cut across the island on what I believe is the best, smoothest road in the country called the Alofi-Hakupu Road.
Josh and I started the day by moving north towards the Matapa Chasm and Talava Arches on the far northwest side of the island. It was an interesting place, and according to others is even better when you are there during the low tide. We arrived at the peak of high tide, but it was a beautiful spot.
On the ride back, and with a stop for lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant we made it through the Tamkautoga village, Togulu Sea Track and finally to the Avatele village. There were a few really nice spots on the way that we ere able to see some great pools in the coral as well as massive expanses of coral.
We finished the night with a dinner at the Falala La café, and takeaway fish and chips.
The plan on Wednesday was a trip through the middle of the country towards the Togo Chasm, one of the most popular tourist areas. The road across the country finishes in Liku and then it is a few short kilometers down to the Togo Chasm. Along the way we noticed there was a sign for Vaikona Chasm. We decided to try it out and explore this chasm we didn’t hear much about. The beginning of the walk was very nice, then the forest got thicker, almost jungle like. The heat was increasing. Then, strange structures started to rise out of the ground. In the middle of the forest was coral, in amazing shapes, sizes, and colors. Then, the trees started growing downwards, there were vines running up the sides of the coral shapes, and the most interesting tree, with the tall and wide roots was along the trail.
Then, the brush was getting thick. There were plants with splinters, large spiders, small walkways with sharp coral. By this point, we knew very few people ventured to this area, and loved it even more. Several times on the walk, I didn’t know how far we were going to make it, I was bleeding a few different places, it was hot and rainy, and it seemed like we were never going to make it. But after more bush, we arrived. The site is simply remarkable. You could see a large portion of the coast, there were heaps of chasms and the water was slamming the coast with astonishing force. I haven’t seen power like that in ages.
We didn’t end up making it to the Togo Chasm, we were so sweaty, tired, and hungry (we didn’t plan meals very well!). But, it was mind-blowing, nonetheless!
This is one of the best travel days in my life!
Josh and I thought it would be good to finally make to the Togo Chasm. The walk was simple compared to the previous day. The leisurely walk to the chasm was nice, and well groomed. There is a clear path, ropes over the difficult parts and even a New Zealand couple on holiday.
The Togo Chasm covers most maps, brochures, and is a place highly recommended by locals and tourists. It is stunning, almost like a Peter Jackson movie. There are tall, sharp coral formations for many meters. The blue water below splash up on the coast, creating an intense scene and sound. We walked around the area a bit and came across a ladder that can be used to descend down to the ‘beach.’ There are few beaches on the island, but a bit of sand never looked so good. Deep between the pointy tops of the coral are a few palm trees, a cave or two, sea snakes and a small pond that seems to reach further in the cut. It is almost like and oasis in the middle of tall, gray and black coral.
After finished the Togo Chasm, we made our way further south to the Vaiea Village, in hope of finding the Fatiau Tuai deserted village. The ride on the motorbike was interesting, with fairly large hills for me as an inexperienced rider, but I made it safely. We never found the actual former village, but found a decent walking trail, more ocean scenes, and some large spiders and complex webs. On the way back up the trail and hill I did manage to fall off the motorcycle for the first time when I hit a rut and lost control, but I was never hurt.
When we arrived at the main road, we made our way to the Avatele Village in hopes of finding the famous Washaway Café and only real beach on the island. When we arrived the café was closed and the rained ruined any beach trek, but it was fun to see some sand.
We finished the day having a late lunch, once again at the Indian Restaurant, and went to dinner.
Both Josh and I have been rather beat, and have essentially seen the entire island so we decided to return to the Timu pools for a bit of a dip. The high tide was raging and it was difficult to swim or stand up, but the cool water was quite relaxing.
We then stopped at a few small sea walks and beaches we missed on the way out to the pools. After that we went to town to do some shopping. We had to pick up a couple of t-shirts (I never do this, but that is how cool this place is to me) and sent some postcards.
For dinner, we went out with a big group, the woman serving us was also the Acting Preimer of Niue. We pestered her to contact President Obama, but she declined. It is crazy that someone serving you dinner has the power of the government!
- Safety belts are not compulsory for cars, but helmets on motorbikes are
- Bikinis and Speedos are not allowed in public
- There is no fishing, diving, or swimming allowed on Sunday
- Niue has a television station with news two times per week, it is presented in Niuean and English (they repeat every story)
- The rugby team is good, despite the small population.
- There is wireless internet provided in the entire country, however I wouldn’t call it very reliable or fast
- There is a yacht club, but no permanent yachts
- I never once locked my room and left the keys in the motorcycle at all times, there is so little crime
- Temperatures range during the year from a high of 27C-30C and lows of 19C-23C
- There isn’t a single ATM on the island and only one bank
- There are 123km (76 miles) of paved roads
- Tipping is not encouraged
- The 1,500 Niueans on the island also have dual citizenship with New Zealand
- There are at least 20,000 Niueans living in New Zealand
- Niueans travel often, are well educated, and are very independent
- Niueans wave at almost everyone on a bike, motorbike, car, or walking when you go past
- There are two languages and nearly everyone is bilingual: Niuean and English
- Chickens are everywhere, even on the golf course
- There is one Reef Shipping boat that arrives per month. It brings everything, food, clothing, vehicles, and fuel
- Four is an important number, phone numbers are four digits, car plate registrations are four digits, and cell phones are four digits.
- According to the listing of services of the hospital, it is possible to get a circumcision for only $100.00
This has been one of the most exciting weeks of my life. While, Niue is so small and remote it provided a wonderful view of the South Pacific. Every time I think about the people who have lived on the island all of their life and struggled through devastating cyclones and economic uncertainty I am in awe of their way of life, their independence and what seems to be pure happiness.
There are heaps more photos on Facebook! Check it out.