First sighted by Captain Cook in 1774, Niue is like a huge limestone rock located 600 miles from Rarotonga. Our destination after the Cook Islands, Niue is an independent nation in free association with New Zealand. The 1200 inhabitants have dual citizenship and English and Niuean (a Maori/Polynesian dialect) are spoken by everyone on the island. Niue is also home to the most friendly people I have ever met. Niue is a natural stop on the way to Tonga as the seas can be rough between the Cook Islands and Tonga. After another exhausting and wet four day passage, we arrived in Niue not knowing what to expect. Everyone said "Go to Niue. You will love it.", but we didn't know what was there to love and our first dusty glimpse did not answer this question right away.
The anchorage around Niue is very deep, steep to and littered with coral and deep crevices. The Niue Yacht Club (we are now proud members) maintains fifteen moorings, so if you are lucky enough to procure one of those you are all set. This is the busy season and also Niue is becoming more popular every year, so the moorings were all taken. With the help of some friends we scouted out a spot north of the pier and dropped the hook. The first thing we saw was amazing visibility. There are no rivers on the island, so there is virtually no run-off. The water is beautiful and clear and filled with fish and tons of sea snakes. The snakes are said to be very poisonous, however their mouth are so tiny that they can only bite small body parts such as you nose or ears. When we got in the water they pretty much ignored us and are said to have very poor eyesight. So if they came close (which they did) then they probably didn't see us anyway. Another interesting thing is that they breathe air. Seeing them curled up sleeping at the bottom 50 feet down you would never imagine that they wake up and shoot to the surface for a breath every now and then.
After we got the boat settled it was time to go check in with immigration and customs. Our first adventure was the wharf. The surge is rough and this can be detrimental to dinghies. Visitors are allowed to use a large crane to lift dingies on to the wharf so they will be protected while we are on land. We haul our dinghy out of the water every night so we already had a bridal ready to go. For me it was little intimidating at first but there was, as always tons of cruisers around to show us the ropes. After awhile we were pros and I felt like Bob the Builder every time.
The day we arrived it was hot and sticky and I had not slept in four days. As we climbed the hill up to the town of Alofi looked small and quiet. Our friends from other boats were buzzing about how much fun they had been having. I agreed the view back down to the anchorage was stunning but still what was there to do here, I wondered. After our check in which was one of the most pleasant ever we wandered over to the Niue Yacht Club to check it out and inquire about when we could get a mooring. This is where we met Keith. Keith is a native New Zealander who has relocated to Niue and spends his time taking care of yachties and the "club". The yacht club is someones front yard which also happen to be an ice cream shop, Ice Cream Heaven. The name says it all. Twenty minutes at the yacht club, ice cream in hand I was getting excited about Niue. As we took a look at the tourist map we were excited to discover all the snorkel spots and caves around the island. Truly devoted to showing these things off to tourists, Niue is wonderfully set up to tour. Most people rent cars or motorbikes to tool around. Excited but still sleep deprived we headed back to Scholarship to rest and had plans to meet up with Keith in the morning for a mini tour. We have been to a lot of marinas and yacht club but never one where the guy in charges piles yachties in the car for a tour.
The next morning refreshed and raring to go we hauled up the dingy and climbed up the hill to start exploring Niue. At the grocery store we ran into Keith who was preparing for that nights BBQ at the Yacht Club. After delivering groceries to the Yacht Club we were off on our tour. Niue actually has a lot going on for such a very small country. A golf course, an airport (only one flight per week), a jail (with one prisoner), quite a few restaurants and most impressive was the fish processing plant. Niue ships over 10,000 pounds of fresh fish to Japan, Hawaii and San Francisco every week. We visited the shop the first day and were amazed at the prices. Mahi, yellowfin or moonfish for about $5 a kilo US. We are not big on fishing but we sure do like to eat it. I think we had some type of fresh fish everyday we stayed in Niue. Another fun thing about Niue is that there is something going on every night. Tuesday is island night, Wednesday is fish and chips, Thursday BBQ night, you get the idea. And the other cool thing was transportation was included. So if your a tourist and want to go to the Washaway Cafe (the only thing open in the whole country on Sunday besides church) then the owners daughter will come and pick you up for their Sunday night burgers. We did all of this and so did most of the other cruisers there. It was a party every night. During the day we snorkeled and hiked and explored caves. We planned to stay less than a week and turned into ten days.
I could not write about Niue without talking about one of the most wonderful cultural experiences I have ever had. In Niue there is a little newsletter that comes out every week with everything that is going on. In the newsletter there was something called a haircutting ceremony. Patricia, a Kiwi that we met explained a bit that is was a coming of age ritual. For this particular ceremony, most of the family had flown in from New Zealand. There is also an exchange of gifts that goes on between families. When we arrived at the town hall we saw stacks of slaughtered pigs, boxes of chickens and bags or taro root (a starchy veggie, I think it tastes like chalk). These were just some of the gifts. When we went inside they directed us to the front of the room. Immediately we were offered cake and juice and made to feel very welcome. The little boy who was seven years old had never had his hair cut. It was down his back and at this time tied up in dozens of ribbons. He sat bolstered high on a throne like chair. For about thirty minutes we sat and watched as not much happened. Then the speeches started (mostly in Niuean) and then the blessing. After grandma thanked everyone for coming (visitors too!) the priest took the first snip. This went on for about an hour as family and friends came up and covered the kid in bolts of fabric and money before they took a piece of hair. After Lance had his worst haircut ever the dancing began. For hours the kids danced, boys and girls alike as the adults and other kids adorned them flowers and threw money and candy. We stayed for over three hours enjoying the festivities. A truly unique Niuean experience. A week or so later we ran into Lance and his family at a local restaurant. He was sporting a new mohawk and his parents thank us again for coming.
Eventually as it is nearing the end of the cruising season we had to say goodbye to Niue and move on. I feel so fortunate to have spent ten days in such a special place. Next on to Tonga.