Niue (pronounced new-ay) is 100 mi² (260km²) of South Pacific tropical paradise sitting on a large rock of coral limestone peeking out of the ocean. It's one of the world's smallest countries and holds the distinction of being the first “Wi-Fi nation” in the world in which free wireless internet access is provided throughout the country. In free association with New Zealand, most of Niue's diplomatic relations are conducted by New Zealand on Niue's behalf. According to Wiki, all Niueans are New Zealand citizens, Queen Elizabeth II is Niue's head of state in her capacity as Queen of New Zealand and in fact, 90–95% of Niuean people live in New Zealand.
We arrived mid-morning on a blustery day with winds from the north, not the best for this open roadstead island whose only port of Alofi is on the northwest side. We hailed Niue Radio advising them of our arrival and then called the Niue Yacht Club to request a mooring. As we aimed for the mooring, a huge humpback breached a couple of hundred yards in front of our bow as our first greeting to the island. Our friend, Keith, later commented that this was a common courtesy provided by Niue's whales when newcomers arrived.
Getting onto the wharf at Niue is not an easy feat when the swell and surge are up. The process entails dropping off passengers who hurry up a ladder and then onto slippery, wet stairs to a crane suspended over the side of the wharf. The crane is hooked onto the dinghy hoisting bridle and the driver must quickly step out of the dinghy onto another set of stairs which are awash. The crane begins lifting the dinghy out of the water and onto the wharf where it is deposited on a dolly and wheeled out of the way to make room for the next dinghy haul-out. In calm weather, this is really not very difficult, however with the swell and it being our first attempt, we made a less than graceful and very wet entrance to Niue. We almost lost David in the process as a huge wave managed to unhook the dinghy bridle at the last minute and hook onto a dinghy handle instead, lifting the dinghy vertically with David still inside. A quick release on the crane lift and David managed to get the hook back in place and hop out of the dinghy to safety on the wharf. Whew!
We were greeted with traditional flower leis, then escorted first to Customs for clear-in, to the Police Station for Immigration procedures and then to the Bank for some New Zealand dollars, the local currency. Finally, legal and with money in our pockets, we headed to the Niue Yacht Club headquarters aka Mamata's Cafe, just down the street. Much of the arrival drama can be avoided if you fly into Niue via Air New Zealand's single weekly flight out of Auckland.
We enjoyed a whirlwind of social activities on the island. Saturday was a Show Day … a semi-monthly fair that changes locations rotating between the island's 14 villages who sequentially serve as hosts. We watched as dancers and singers entertained. We sampled the food and generally enjoyed our first introduction to Niue's friendly people.
It seemed that every day there was something going on. One night was a “sausage sizzler” at the yacht club and another was a BBQ. Keith gave us an orientation tour of the island one afternoon which included a visit to a noni plantation/juice factory and a visit with Mark Cross, renowned South Pacific painter, at his studio. We had a burger and a beer at the well-known Washaway Cafe on Sunday (the only day it's open) . From the vantage point at our table, we could see whales spouting and breaching, accompanied by a pod of spinner dolphins. Lonely Planet South Pacific provides a pretty good overview of what's available to see and do on the island.
We shared a car rental with friends one day and toured the island in earnest. “Caves, caverns and chasms” is how we characterized our trip at day's end. Scuba diving is a must here with lots of opportunities to swim with the whales as well as sea kraits, a small, venomous, very curious sea snake whose mouth is too small to bite you.
If you go:
Our Navionics electronic charting software was spot on. We primarily used Charlie's Charts of Polynesia for sailing and Lonely Planet South Pacific as our land guide. Check out the Niue Yacht Club website in advance for yacht arrival, mooring and island information. You don't have to be a sailor to enjoy their hospitality. In fact, they claim to be the only yacht club in the world where no local member owns a sailboat!
All services are pretty much spread out on the same strip of road.
- Niue Yacht Club aka Mamata's Cafe is extremely helpful and can answer most questions for you. You can join the NYC ($20/yr), buy NYC logo wear and pay your moorings fees ($15NZ/day) here plus purchase light lunches, drinks and ice cream.
- Duty free: Located next door to Customs office, Duty Free purchases are only available the day you arrive and the day you leave.
- Fuel: Diesel and gasoline are available via jerry can at the local gas station, opposite the Alofi Car Rental.
- Post office: in the Commercial Centre; several collectible stamp issues
- Laundry: Next to the Swan-Son Supermarket
- Tourism office: at the Commercial Centre; has limited information/brochures
- Rental cars, bikes, motorcycles: Alofi Rentals; our car rental was $52NZ/day. There is no insurance in Niue, so you're on your own if you have a fender bender. A Niue driver's license ($11.20NZ) is available on request at the Niue Police Station when a current valid driver's license from your home country is produced. It's the British driving system...stay left.
- Supermarket/provisioning: Don't count on Niue for provisioning. Prices are quite expensive. Swan-Son is the only supermarket and depending on when the last supply ship arrived, shelves may or may not be stocked. Everything (except a few restaurants) is closed on Sundays. Fresh market is early morning twice a week. Check days with NYC.
- Medical: Niue has a small hospital/medical center
- Bank: No ATM; Bank of the Pacific is located in the Commerical Centre. They will exchange foreign currencies for NZ$; they will provide NZ$ on your debit/ATM/credit card with a $12NZ + 3 ½ % surcharge (ouch!). Get NZ $ in advance if you can.
- Restaurants/cafes: Several
NYC has good coffee/latte/espresso in the mornings, light lunches, drinks and good company
Umu Cafe has morning coffee and light lunches
Washaway Cafe (open Sundays only) requires transportation. Great burgers, fish sandwiches and an “honors” bar.
Matavai Resort is upscale, nice atmosphere, pricey
There's an Indian restaurant and several other smaller restaurants to try; a good fish & chip place in the Commercial Centre.
What to See and Do
Niue Yacht Club: There's always something going on here; a good place to meet and hang out whether you're a yachtie or not. Free internet. Join the Yacht Club!
Island tour: Caves, caverns and chasms. You can hire a car and go yourself or arrange for an island tour through the Commerical Centre or Keith Vial. Good paths through the forest, then spectacular limestone caves and caverns complete with stalactites and stalagmite.
Diving: Niue Diving gives yachties special rates. Dive with the humpback whales in season; great coral; sea kraits; spinner dolphins.
Souvenirs: Limited, but baskets and woven pandanus palm items are nice; some carvings and jewelry. A couple of nice shops and a t-shirt shop in the Commercial Centre. Mark Cross sells prints, postcards from his studio at a shop in the Commercial Centre.