Sunday 7 June 2015


The weather is gorgeous.  The sky is overcast with a cool breeze blowing through the anchorage. Overnight we have had a blanket on our beds for the first time since the Canary Islands. I never thought that I would celebrate the cooler weather but here we are on the island of Niue with no hat, no sun tan lotion, and no perspiration. Bliss.

Niue claims to be the world’s smallest independent nation with only 1400 inhabitants. Unlike all the volcanic islands that we have encountered so far, it is a coral uprising and therefore has no fringing reef and no lagoon.  Because the island is made entirely of coral it has no rivers to deposit sediment into the sea and consequently it has some of the clearest waters in the world, with visibility over two hundred feet.  Despite its porous foundations the island has unlimited fresh water that is drawn from deep wells under the coral. The harbour is unprotected with no breakwater; just a mooring field on this wild west coast but fortunately the weather is settled during our visit and Juno lies peacefully in the deep clear water.

Going ashore is an interesting experience.  When the wind is in the west, the anchorage becomes untenable so all boats have to be winched up onto the hard.  A large crane bolted to the dock operates a wire hawser with a large steel hook attached to the end. We use a bridle that we attach to the lifting points on our dinghy, then someone presses a button and the crane lurches into life, lifting us out of the sea above the harbour wall; we swing the boom around by hand and lower our rib onto a steel trolley that we use to wheel it away to a space in the car park.   The hardest part of the process is lifting our heavy rib off the trolley and onto the tarmac but everyone mucks in, helping each other with enthusiasm; it is definitely the most interesting landing we have made.

Our host on the island is the Niue Sailing Club, where none of the committee members own a yacht and none of them have ever sailed. The commodore is Keith Vail, a charming New Zealander who claims that he has never left the wharf; he greets us at the dock where the customs and immigration officials have come to clear us in.  After a cursory glance at our documents we are free to find breakfast, a short walk up the street at the Crazy Uga CafĂ©.  We become members the Yacht Club and sign the visitors’ book while Keith tells us more about this charming island. Niue is a poor nation, heavily subsidised by New Zealand where Niueans go to find their fortune, often returning to the sanctuary of the island to retire. There is a small prison, currently empty. On the rare occasions when someone is incarcerated, it is usually for drunken behaviour and if the detainee needs to relieve himself during the night, he lets himself out, attends to his business in the neighbouring hut and then locks himself back in his cell.

We are invited for drinks at the New Zealand High Commissioner’s residence. On this island of simple wooden huts it is a veritable palace; a large single–storey bungalow at the end of a long drive with rolling green lawns and a white washed terrace where Ross, the High Comm as he is known, greets us with an easy charm and a well-stocked bar. Most of the ARC fleet has arrived by now and the volume soon ratchets up as we exchange stories of the storm until eventually our rowdy party is ushered off the premises to the yacht club where the party continues late into the night.

The diving in Niue is renowned for its crystal clear water and its rock formation. We tie our dinghy to a buoy at the end of the mooring field and slip over the side with our tanks into the clear inky water. We make our way to the rocky shore where we dive down to 20 metres following the coral cliff around the island. The first thing we notice are the snakes; black and white striped, about a metre long, they weave through the water, inquisitive but harmless, although slightly unnerving at first when they nose up to get a close look.  Unlike our previous dives where the fish have been plentiful, in Niue the underwater rock formations are the main attraction. Deep canyons run through the coral, creating a labyrinth of colour; tunnels and caves, eroded by the mighty ocean, provide shelter for shoals of fish that gather in the darkest recesses.

Before we leave Niue the locals invite us to dinner at their community hall. They have clearly prepared long and hard for this event but they haven’t allowed for the liquid appetite of our fleet and the wine runs out within half an hour. Never mind, there is plenty of New Zealand beer and we settle down as the local mayor stands to make his welcome speech.  After a few minutes of the ritual ‘thanks you’s’ one of the ladies loses patience and takes the microphone. Authoritative and commanding she is clearly in charge and relishes an audience to address.  She reminds us that this has all been prepared by the ladies of the diocese with the help of the good lord and we stand while she says grace.  The meal is a huge buffet of fish, chicken, suckling pig and all types of locally grown vegetables and fruit.  After dinner the elder ladies dance with the men from the rally and one lady in particular choses Andrew and they hold each other’s ears while they sway in a traditional Niuean 

It is still drizzling on our last day at the mooring field; it feels more like Cherbourg than the South Pacific.  Much as we have enjoyed our brief interlude from the relentless tropical heat, it is time to leave for Tonga and to find some sunshine. Niue has been a joy. Quite unique and so different from everything else we have seen on our travels. For the people of Niue, and the charming members of the Yacht Club, it must be a life of brief encounters as yachts pass through this little colonial outpost and then leave, probably never to return – although we just might.

1 comment:

  1. What a facinating and cute, small island with field of coral. Has my bro got a tatoo on his arm now? It looks like a ray type of flat fish?!