HOLIDAY REPORT - 4-11 August 2007
Why would anyone want to go to Niue? There are NO sandy beaches, NO 5 star resorts, NO shopping malls, NO fancy restaurants. It’s just a hunk of limestone rock in a very large ocean.
But with just one Boeing 737 a week, at very unfriendly times, there are NO crowds either!
For those of us who don’t need all the ‘bells and whistles’ and prefer the simple life, Niue is hard to beat and two weeks is definitely needed to really explore all that it has to offer and still have time to sit back and relax.
Cyclone Heta in January 2004 almost destroyed Niue, and signs of the devastation can still be seen in the derelict houses and piles of rubble that are still dotted around the island, and the barren rocks stripped of coral beneath the sea. But the main infrastructure has been rebuilt, the coral is regenerating and tourists – and some locals – are returning to Niue again.
Who should go? It’s a destination best suited to nature-lovers, walkers, snorkellers, fishermen, divers. I don’t recommend it for families with small children, or the infirm, due to the rough coral everywhere which can make the walking tracks difficult to negotiate.
How to get around: A rental car is a must – do book ahead in peak season as there aren’t enough to go around a full planeload of visitors. Niue is a raised coral atoll with a circular ring road – approx 70kms round – linked by a few cross island roads. These are mainly sealed, or hard-packed coral, with some small ‘bush roads’ for the adventurous to explore.
ACCOMMODATION: There aren’t many beds available on Niue so book well ahead for the peak season months of June-September.
Matavai Resort: The only resort-style property on the island. Probably 3 stars - located about 15 minutes drive south of Alofi town. Luckily missed any major damage during Cyclone Heta in 2004. Lovely large decks out front of bar/restaurant area perfect for a quiet beer while whale-watching. 22 comfortable hotel rooms with balconies in two 2-storey blocks overlooking the gardens.
Saturday night - BBQ and cultural show put on by the staffs children – very cute!
Coral Gardens Motel: Where I stayed. 5 comfortable individual self-contained chalets located about 7 minutes drive north of Alofi. Overlooking the cliff-top. Stafford and Salome Guest have owned the property for years and are welcoming hosts. Missed any major cyclone damage. ‘Sails Bar’ is a very pleasant place to enjoy a cold beer while overlooking the ocean. Sunday petanque games and a weekly quiz night attracts locals and visitors alike. Bonus: no village close by, so NO ROOSTERS. But the units are very close to the road, so there is the occasional traffic going by. (Quite a few South Auckland ‘boom-box’ sound systems have made it back to Niue…!!)
Namukulu Motel: Robyn and Joe Wright’s original cliff-top property was destroyed during Cyclone Heta, so they have moved up the hill and built a beautiful little complex – 3 very comfortable and well appointed self-contained units, a swimming pool, small gym, and lovely spacious grounds with gardens being constantly added to. A great raised whale-watching spot overlooking the forest canopy out to the ocean. All adds up to a very nice property in a quiet and peaceful location. Located about 10 minutes drive north of Alofi – possibly the only slight draw-back – especially if you are making lots of trip to the dive shop down at the Matavai Resort.
Kololis: A comfortable combination of guest-house with 5 bedrooms and communal living areas, and also 3 separate recently renovated fully self-contained motel units. Located right in the centre of town, behind the shopping centre. We did hear complaints of roosters! So staying in the town-based properties is a trade-off against being centrally located vs having roosters and traffic to contend with.
Pelenis’ Guest House: Former family home with 3 rooms, each with private facilities. Right in the centre of town. Very clean and renovated since ‘Heta’.
Teresa’s Guest House: On the edge of town – about 8 minutes walk. 4 bedrooms. Didn’t see this one, but spoke to one group of friends who had the whole place booked out, and they were very happy with it.
That’s it for the ‘official’ properties. There are also holiday homes to rent, and at least two more small ‘motel-style’ places being built, so the options are increasing.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Niue would have to be in contention for THE best water clarity in the world. The coral-limestone that Niue is made of means there is no run-off, and 40-50 metres visibility is the norm. Winter water temperatures are around 25 degrees – very pleasant.
Scuba Diving: Ian Gray and Annie Franklin’s dive operation was washed away in Cyclone Heta. It’s a testament to how special Niue is that they stayed and these days operate a very friendly and well-run business from next door to the Matavai Resort.
Dive trips operate in the mornings, and whale-watching or snorkeling trips in the afternoon.
There are still some lovely patches of coral to explore, plus fabulous sea caves and the famous sea snakes to enjoy. I also got enjoyment from looking at the small patches of pretty coral that is starting to grow again on the barren cyclone-blasted rocks.
Annie told me off for booking so late – I only contacted her about 6 weeks before we went - as there were very few dive trip vacancies left. With only two inflatables taking 4 divers each, it’s definitely recommended to book at least 6 months ahead during the peak season months. Annie informed me that one of the two inflatables was booked out ‘by a film-crew’, but we could have a chat with them when we arrived and perhaps arrange something. We discovered when we got to Niue that the ‘film-crew’ was in fact Ben Cropp – the very well known Australian diver who swapped his spear-gun for a camera in 1962 and hasn’t looked back since. He was in Niue for four weeks filming a documentary for Channel 7. We might be film stars! (Well, my shadow might!) Brian in particular was very interested in meeting such a legend, and we did in fact go out on two separate trips with him.
Whale-watching: The humpback whale is present in Niue’s waters from June to September/early October each year. They come to breed and to mate. There weren’t many around when we were there, and interactions were hard to come by but this can vary from year to year, and there are many wonderful stories and photographs to prove that Niue’s whale encounters can be just as amazing as Vava’u in Tonga….if you’re lucky! Of course, there’s always someone who had a great experience – one guy we spoke to jumped in the water and was buzzed by 6 sailfish, then a marlin swam past him, and then he had an amazing humpback encounter! All on his first whale-watching attempt! Makes you sick. I’m thinking that late August/ September would be a better time to go as any calves would be born by then, so there may be more around.
Snorkelling: At low tide the rock ledge around Niue gets exposed, along with many beautiful clear rock-pools. Many of these are large enough to swim and snorkel in, and there is an array of tropical fish to enjoy, as well as the regenerating coral. Many enjoyable hours can be spent walking and exploring at low tide.
Fishing: No fancy charter boats here. There are a few locals operating small fishing trips, and rock-fishing is popular.
Caves:: There are land based caves, caves down by the waters edge, caves to swim in and and caves completely under the water to dive in – many, many fascinating places to explore.
Walks: Some lovely bush walks, most often ending up on the coast. Always very uneven underfoot due to the coral everywhere!
WHAT TO EAT
There are only a few eating establishments, and all very casual and laid-back. Matavai Resort is the most ‘up-market’, then there’s Gills for curries, Falala Fa for delicious fish and chips, Jennas, and The Crazy Uga Café offering good coffee and burgers. But the highlight for me was the ‘Washaway Café’ – open only on a Sunday afternoon/evening at Avatele. Burgers and beers in a unique setting. Owned by Willie Saniteli, who also owns the Crazy Uga in town.
NIUE IN THE FUTURE
I have some concerns for Niue’s future….
Thousands of Niueans have left their island home and the estimate is that 20,000 now live in New Zealand. The current population of Niue is only around 1600 and the culture is struggling to survive. The New Zealand government provides millions of dollars in aid annually.
I also have fears for the wildlife on Niue – we noticed quite a few cats in the wild which can’t be good for the local birds, lizards etc. The coconut crab, or Uga, is a delicacy and many a Niuean returning to New Zealand carries out a few cooked uga. I wonder if anyone knows how many are caught every year? How is the population faring?
But I also have hopes for Niue’s future….
Tourism is the key. Niue is unique and more visitors will come as the word spreads. This will hopefully encourage some of the young people to come home to start new businesses. The population will rebuild and the culture will be saved. Industry in the form of a fish processing plant, and a noni-juice plantation have recently opened, and hopefully more industry will follow. All of this will mean less reliance on aid and a move towards self-sufficiency.
SUMMARY: I loved my holiday on Niue. It was totally relaxing. I will be going back.