Why did the chicken cross the road?
Well after a week away in Niue, I should really have the answer to that question. There are chickens crossing all over the place, and dogs, and cars swerving to avoid the potholes in the white crushed coral pavements. Surprisingly we didn’t see a single accident, squashed chicken or dog, and the other drivers all give you a friendly wave as they swerve back on to their side of the road as they drive past.
Niue is friendly like that.
Seth and I had escaped New Zealand for a week’s holiday. A post election and Seth’s birthday treat for both of us. We jumped on one of the two Air New Zealand flights each week from Auckland to Niue – a relatively tiny rock of fossilised coral protruding from the South Pacific Ocean.
When we arrived at the airport our rental car was waiting for us in the car park with the keys in the ignition. I’d thought that the Chatham Islands were probably the only place in the world where that still happens but apparently not! I guess with just 1300 residents, a plane load of tourists and an island with about a 64km circumference, if you steal a car it is going to turn up again pretty quickly.
You do need a car in Niue. There are no buses or taxis, but you could probably get by with a bike (not too many hills) and apparently hitch hiking is good too. But anyway our motel came with a car – with air conditioning. A perfect means of transport for some adventuring.
Anyway we jumped in our car and followed our host Ilona about 10 minutes north until we arrived at the lovely Anaiki Motel. This is a lovely waterfront motel above one of the most stunning caves. Undoubtedly the best location on the island. Not far from town, and right in the heart of all the best snorkelling locations.
Seth and I quickly unpacked and headed down the sea track to the Avaiki Cave directly below us.
The colour of the water was absolutely breathtaking, and when you slipped beneath the surface another world appeared. Beautiful coral, hundreds of fish of all different colours and sizes, and even friendly sea snakes!
The island is made of an ancient extinct underwater volcano that has broken the surface of the ocean. There are sharp fossilised coral rocks everywhere, probably millions of years old. This is punctuated by stunning limestone caves, and when the tide goes out it reveals more rock pools to explore in the reef below.
Because of the shape of the island, there are no rivers. The rain water is absorbed in to the island like a sponge and slowly filters out through the rocks creating incredibly clear water which literally feels like you are swimming in air.
Now this is my kind of ‘infinity pool’!
Watch your step! You have to tip-toe over the reef to make sure you don’t tread on any precious sea creatures when you go exploring. Then find a suitable way of exiting the rock pool before diving in to the underwater wonderland.
We headed back in to town to get some basic supplies from the supermarket, had a poke around the handful of little shops, withdrew some cash from the Kiwibank (there are no ATM machines on Niue, but most places do take eftpos and credit cards) got a drivers license from the police station and had a bite to eat at Gill’s Indian restaurant.
Directly across the road from the main centre of town is the most stunning golden sandy beach Utuko. A perfect spot for some more swimming and snorkelling and watching the yachts bobbing about on their moorings.
We were up bright and early the next day (thanks to the roosters – bring some earplugs…) and trotted in to town to meet up with Keith and Sue from Niue Orientation Tours. This is a brilliant introduction to the Island. Keith and Sue will fill you in on all the best places to go and the times to go there – working around the tide. There are plenty of places to stop and take photos and even have a swim during the tour. You get a fantastic information pack as well which we used every day during our stay.
The other place to visit for information and maps is the Niue Visitors Centre.
Our favourite spot on the tour was the stunning Matapa Chasm which was absolutely incredible.
By the time we had finished the tour we had met most of the other tourists on the island and a few of the locals as well. We found that we would be constantly be bumping in to the same people over and over again, which was fun and you could share stories and experiences with each other.
We had lunch at Crazy Uga Cafe back in the centre of town and then headed off for some more exploring.
The following day was a little overcast so we decided to circumnavigate the island. With a 64km ring road, you could probably drive around the whole island in an hour, but with all our stopping and starting it took us all morning.
The West Coast – where we were staying is the side sheltered from the prevailing South East trade winds. The East Coast is more sparsely populated and the coastline and waves are much rougher.
Our first stop was Uluvehi right at the north of the island. It was a stunning view as the waves crashed against the cliffs. There were a collection of vaka (fishing canoes) on the shoreline, but it looked a but rough for fishing on the day we visited.
We headed further south stopping briefly at Puluhiki Sea Track, putting the 2WD rental car through some 4WD action on the overgrown track… thankfully we didn’t get stuck as there is no cell phone coverage on the island.
Then on to the Hikulagi Sculpture Park which is an interesting evolving art installation that you can add your own items to.
This is located in the Huvalu Forest Conservation Area. Taking up 20% of Niue’s land area. Niue has also just designated a large part of its EEZ to a Marine Conservation area as well. It is great to see countries being proactive in their efforts to protect the environment, especially one as pristine as this.
We passed by tidy sleepy villages, nipping down the numerous sea tracks to explore and seeing only the occasional other person. There are lots of abandoned buildings. Some were damaged in the 2004 cyclone which destroyed a lot of the infrastructure on the island. Others are just deserted and are slowly being swallowed up by the hungry jungle.
Then it was on to the Togo Chasm. This is one of the longer walks on the island, and Seth will tell you personally that it is better to wear walking shoes as opposed to his slip on jandals…
We wandered through the rain forest, little copper coloured lizards scurried out from under each step. Then out to the escarpment – where the bush clears revealing a tiny slither of track cut through the jagged rocks on either side.
You can imagine what a sharp and hostile environment this must have been for the first settlers to this island and the hard job they would have had clearing areas for their villages and farms.
Then its time to shimmy down a very tall ladder and in to what looks like a movie set. An inland beach with no sea. A perfect place for pirates to bury treasure. If you climb over the rocks beyond you end up in another canyon filled with fresh water (and thick mud – Seth can tell you all about that as well…)
After clambering back up the ladder we stopped to admire the beautiful blue waves crashing on to the rocks below. We munched on a muesli bar, sipping water from our camelbaks and enjoying the atmosphere of this special oasis.
The next stop on Keith’s map was the Anapala Chasm. We’d heard that the road was closed but there were no signs indicating that, so we carried on down the rather steep rutted track (all the while wondering if our little rental car would be able to get us back up again) and pulled in to the deserted car park.
Another bush walk lead us to a narrow steep long staircase going down in to a deep dark cave. We stopped to avoid a big spiderweb. The cave below looked really dark. I got my torch out and shone it down the stairs. A pair of green eyes in the fresh water below reflected back at me. ‘Hmmm’ I thought quietly to myself. “Shall we go back to the car?” Seth agreed. Call me a sissy – I might have been a bit braver had there been some other people around, but we hadn’t seen anyone in ages, and I didn’t fancy finding out who the eyes belonged to on my own.
After all the adventuring we were starving so we stopped off at Oki Oki Mai cafe on the South Coast for some amazing fish and chips. I am pretty sure the fish was fresh tuna – or maybe mahi mahi – either way it was absolutely delicious, and a Kalaga beer (Niuean beer but brewed in Christchurch!). There were some dark clouds on the horizon rapidly advancing in our direction. One minute we could see white foam on the water and the next minute the chairs were getting blown away in 40+kts of wind and we were being drenched with horizontal tropical rain. Our first squall! I was pleased I wasn’t out on the water.
We beat a hasty retreat back to Anaiki to dry off.
That night we had booked in to the Matavai Resort for an island buffet and fire night. Sadly there was no fire show due to the weather but the food was pretty good.
The next morning the sun had come out – and it was Seth’s 13th birthday! As a special treat I had booked us in for a whale snorkelling tour with Magical Niue Adventures. This is a great company to go with. They will do their absolute best to find you some whales or dolphins to snorkel with, but if the wildlife doesn’t show up (as in our case) then they will take you on an amazing snorkelling adventure instead. We got to see some stunning coral outside the main reef and then also snorkelled through a very narrow chasm and in to a big cave. A very cool adventure.
We also visited Limu Pools which was to become one of our favourite go-to snorkelling spots. The fish life was just incredible in this secluded and picturesque pool. We just loved it there and went back just about every day.
Dinner that night for Seth’s birthday was at KaiIka Japanese restaurant. I had the most amazing sashimi platter and they also do great pizza too. There was a guy singing and playing some great tunes on his guitar and he very kindly also sang happy birthday to Seth along with the rest of the restaurant.
The Tavala Arches is another ‘must do’ adventure. Its about a 30 minute walk through the steamy jungle to get out there. Once again make sure you take a drink and wear decent footwear as the rocks underfoot are super sharp.
Eventually you arrive to a beautiful huge slippery limestone cave, where you shimmy through with the assistance of some large ropes, and then kind of use them to abseil down a steep slope. Then the beautiful view of the arches unfolds in front of your eyes. If you arrive at low tide you can wade out on the reef and explore some of the rock pools below.
As we sat there admiring the view a huge pod of the local spinner dolphins slowly cruised past – damn where were they yesterday when we were out in the boat!?
After all that exercise we went back for a swim at the Matapa Chasm and then lunch at Hio’s cafe with a stunning view overlooking Hio’s beach. Apparently there is another great snorkelling rockpool around to the right at low tide, but we didn’t get the chance to go there.
Sundays are a day of rest on Niue. Most of the locals head to church, where apparently the singing is beautiful. We headed off for some more snorkelling at Limu and then down to the Washaway Cafe. This cool spot is only open on a Sunday and you serve yourself! Simply rock up to the bar, help yourself to a drink, write down what you’ve taken in the book and find yourself a table overlooking the stunning bay below.
Thankfully you don’t have to make the food though, and I had the most amazing fish burger. A great place to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Another cool place to visit is Vaiolama Cafe. Located near the centre of town this cafe has a fabulous view over the yachts below. We loved chatting with the friendly owner. Order a rockmelon and mint smoothie and play a game of mini golf amongst the coral fossils and tropical flowers.
One of the other great things about staying at Anaiki is the amazing sunsets. This was our view around 6pm every night. Ahhhh…
Then the night sky is lit up with a million stars, before you drift off early to sleep and wait for the roosters to wake you up again at dawn. 😉
Sadly all good holidays must come to an end. Time to head home and earn some more money to pay for the next trip away! We will have to sail back here next time.
While we had done so much exploring there were plenty of things we missed out on as well. You can go on deep sea fishing trips, go hunting for uga (huge coconut crabs), SCUBA diving, take a tour around one of the vanilla plantations and other farms, or go caving deep underground – with a guide so you don’t get lost, weaving with the locals, eat an umu (traditional way of cooking – like a hangi) mountain biking on one of the many bike tracks, July-September is the best time for whale watching (we were just a bit too late in the season) and explore all the other sea tracks we missed.
Niue is a charming and incredible destination for water and adventure lovers. There are lots of places to explore, it is boutique, real and unspoilt by flashy touristy resorts and shopping centres. The ocean is your swimming pool, people are friendly. You eat where the locals eat and simply enjoy nature. I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to come back.
For lots of other handy suggestions click here to read my other travel tips for cruisers – and tourists visiting Niue.
Make sure you come prepared for an adventure. Click here to read about what to pack in your day pack so you are ready to get out and explore. Make sure you also pack your mask & snorkel, fins if you are planning on going outside the reef, reef shoes or tramping sandals (closed toe is better) and your camera!
Here is Seth’s video of our first day. Like and subscribe to his channel to see the videos of the rest of the trip as they become available.