Niue ... the Rock of Polynesia
Tiny, little Niue is the smallest independent nation in the world by population. One of world's largest coral islands, its name actually translates to “Behold the coconut”, but Niue (pronounced new-ay) is more affectionately known as "the Rock". What the island lacks in population and size, it makes up for in friendliness. Say hello in Niuean ... Fakaalofa atu.
Area: ~100 sq miles (about 1.5x the size of Washington, DC)
Population: 2,166 (est 2006)
Currency: New Zealand $
Time: -11 UTC
Lowest point: Pacific Ocean (sea level)
Highest point: unnamed location near Mutalau settlement ~221' A
Languages: English, Niuean
Guides: Lonely Planet South Pacific, Charlie's Charts
Our fascination with visiting Niue goes back a couple of years. As a volunteer Cruising Station Coordinator for SSCA, Marcie appointed Keith Vial, the Commodore of the Niue Yacht Club as a Cruising Station a couple of years back. We maintained email contact with a promise that as soon as Nine of Cups managed to cross the Pacific, we'd stop for a visit. In the meantime, Marcie did lots of research on the island, its history, culture and things to see and do.
At last we arrived and the NYC rolled out the red carpet for us. We were overwhelmed! A tiare lei greeting at the wharf on arrival, chauffeur service to all the check-in offices, an NYC/SSCA BBQ at the yacht club, an island tour, lunch at the Washaway Cafe, introductions to lots of wonderful people and a friendship that will last a lifetime. We even got to meet the Premiere of this tiny island nation!
Niue was dubbed the Savage Island by Captain James Cook in 1774 because of the unwelcoming attitude of its inhabitants and lack of a good anchorage. He doesn't know what he missed!
Our first Saturday on the island was a Village Day and Keith offered to take us for an outing. Each of the island's 14 villages takes a turn every other Saturday during the tourist season, presenting entertainment and games, as well as offering crafts and food for sale. There were lots of interesting sights to see ... everything from traditional Polynesian dancing to C&W line dancing and coconut crabs (uga), a delicacy of Niue, tethered on a line, waiting to be sold.
Sundays are usually quiet on the island...reserved for church and family. One place, however, Willy's Washaway Cafe is open from "11am till the last
person leaves". Keith & Sue invited us to lunch there. It's the only "honors bar", we've ever encountered.
We rented a car one day with good friends, Rob & Teresa on Yohelah, and took an extensive island tour. First stop was to look at local handmade baskets in Makefu village.
The Avaiki Caves were absolutely beautiful. We walked along a forest path which eventually entered a cave and emerged into the caverns above with a gorgeous crystal clear lagoon.
Some flora and fauna ...
While wandering about the island, we did get to observe some of the local flora and fauna. I did NOT see the katuali or flat-tail sea snake up closely. Endemic to Niue, these highly venomous snakes are not aggressive and considered "friendly", I was told. I never got close enough to find out. Great numbers of humpback whales in season are frequent visitors to Niue, but we were a bit too late to see them.
We left Niue in rather a hurry at the end of September. We had cleared out Customs and Immigration the day before and planned to take a leisurely leave in the morning. About 0700, we felt a rumbling on the boat ... the feeling you have when there's a lot of wind in the shrouds "shivering your timbers" or when something is rubbing against the chain. We couldn't figure it out and went back to our coffee. In actuality, it was an earthquake centered in American Samoa (8.3 on the Richter scale). Shortly thereafter, we heard an emergency tsunami warning issued to the fleet of yachties by the local Niuean police department. Needless to say, it didn't take us long to haul the dink, stow everything and cast off the mooring lines. Our adrenaline was definitely flowing. With a modicum of fuss, we were under way. Yohelah was only minutes behind us. Niue suffered no damage, but devastation was great in Samoa and we had several friends there we were quite worried about. We learned later from another yachtie that a friend of ours was killed when he was washed off the dock by a big wave in Pago Pago as he was trying to cast off. Very sad news.
We are constantly reminded of our mortality and our vulnerability at sea and thank God (and Neptune) for each new day and each disaster avoided.
And now ... we are off to Tonga!