Arrive as a visitor, leave as a friend

by Holly Dukeson

Carla and Doug Dukeson recently took the opportunity to explore one of the smallest nations on the planet, Niue – The Rock!

Far from The Rock of San Francisco – Alcatraz, The Rock reference to Niue is due to the island’s formation, starting as an ancient under-water volcano which over centuries developed as a Coral Island – the earth’s plates shifted and raised the island 20-60 metres above sea level. The blue water begins in just hundreds of metres off the coastline, making it a blue water fisherman’s fantasy. We were told on our Orientation Tour that a Navy ship recently dropped depth recording equipment just 500 meters off the coast and in areas recorded depths of over 2.3 kms. Niue delivers a big Pacific experience that’s unlike any other. An easy 3.5-hour flight from Auckland (now twice a week), this island is a destination for tropical explorers, who love being in the water and water adventures, discovering amazing landforms, watching whales and enjoying honest South Pacific cuisine, for the shoppers – don’t even think of Niue as a destination option. When the opportunity arose to visit a tropical island in November, we were initially disheartened, as we had imagined, in November, NZ would finally be warm and sunny, normally we would try to plan atropical trip in the winter months to escape the NZ cold. However, as it happened, Cyclone Lola decided to pay a visit and on the day of departure and days leading up to it, it was cold, windy and raining – so we couldn’t wait for some warmer temperatures and balmy evenings, especially to a tropical island we had not visited before.

On our day of arrival, Niue was everything we had imagined it to be, from the moment we stepped off the plane – the warm embracing air, the inviting tropical scents, the singing and sound of a ukulele playing, all very welcoming – we couldn’t have felt better! We had a rental car prearranged, as there is no public transport in Niue – no buses, taxis or Uber on this island! We collected our Kia Sorrento from Willie, 4×4 Niue Rental Cars, a simple task of walking to the car, where we found the car with the keys in the ignition. A rental car is a must to allow you to get about the island. (fuel $3.50 per litre).

We made our way to our home for the next 7 days, the Scenic Resort operated, Matawai Resort. A beautiful location just 10 minutes south of the airport. After a lovely greeting by staff including a refreshing towel to cool our weary brows and a fresh coconut/tropical juice, we made our way to the room to unpack. Our room was gorgeous and authentic with great uninterrupted views out to the ocean. Lovely crisp fresh white linen and a super comfy bed with a mattress to die for. A spacious air conditioned room with all the mod cons. Nothing beats the sound of the waves crashing in through the palm trees, right outside your veranda to get you in the relaxed mood and off to sleep at night. We were invited (along with the other newbie guests) to a welcome party at the pool bar. This was something unique that we had not experienced at any other resort. We were given a complimentary drink from the bar and invited to sit and hear a brief talk by the manager, which was extremely informative about the property and island. There was also a few of the other local tour operators there, all available to ask any questions about what services they had to offer. This was a fantastic way to start the holiday – knowing all the answers to our questions including the “dos and don’ts”. Just to top it off, whilst sitting there, a pod of dolphins came by and pirouettedin front of us, a delight to start our week. We enjoyed a beautiful dinner of yellow fin tuna, fish & chips, a nice glass of Rose and climbed into bed for a much-needed sleep after leaving home at 4.00am!

The first official day on the island started with an Orientation Tour. This was invaluable we found later, we highly recommend this to anyone visiting for the first time. This is run by the Niue Yacht Clubs Commodore (read more about Niue Yacht Club later in this article), Keith Vial and his wife, Sue. Sue, a teacher, and Keith a school principal from the South Island of New Zealand, have lived on Niue for approximately 20 years. We quickly learned from them that there’s nowhere in the Pacific quite like Niue. It has many things in common with other islands, such as coconut palms and a wonderful tropical climate, but it’s made differently as mentioned, the entire island is a raised coral atoll sitting on top of an ancient marine volcano. As a result of this formation, Niue has some of the most remarkable snorkelling spots we’ve ever seen, including Limu Pools, Utoko Beach, Tautu Reef and Hio Beach. Matapa Chasm, all found down the West Coast, these spots mentioned being some of the best places to go in Niue for a dip and snorkel.

The Matapa Chasm being so beautiful, it was once reserved as a swimming pool, just for royalty, as was the spectacular Avaiki Cave at Makefu. You don’t need a boat to access these places – just walk down a track always referred to as ‘sea tracks’ with a staircase down to the ocean’s edge, complete with living coral and masses of bright-coloured fish. If you’re a snorkeller or scuba diver, you’ll rave about the visibility in Niue’s waters, offering up to 80 metres visibility! Along with incredible water clarity, Niue offers amazing cave and cavern diving along with some spectacular hard coral reefs.

Keith and Sue showed us Niue’s unique geology and important considerations for safe swimming and snorkelling, very much tide dependent. This was a 4-hour tour, where we visited caves, cliff tops, chasms, beaches and the best snorkelling spots.

Speaking of The Rock as a prison, we visited Niue’s version of The Rock – a small prison which is infrequently tenanted, with almost 0% crime in Niue. The last person incarcerated, was given the key, so he could allow himself out to use the toilet next door and then lock himself back in, once relieving himself.

Keith and Sue gave us a resource pack which also helped to explain all the activities available on the island – from fishing charters, snorkelling/diving charters, plantation/garden tours, a vanilla tour and even a Uga (local crab) Hunting tour. They also sent us an email each evening while we were there, offering a heads up on the weather for the next day and what places were the safest to swim due to the expected tides.

Day Two – Being woken by a 4.00am alarm was a bit of a shock, especially when on holiday, but after a quick shower to wake up, we were soon at the Port, Sir Roberts Wharf to meet our skipper, BJ of Fish Niue Charters at 5.00am. The NZ built Stabicraft 2050, powered by a 150hp Yamaha Four stroke, was lifted by an oversized crane/davit (due to the lack of ramps, as a result of the cliffs surrounding the island) and lowered next to the wharf where we boarded.

We headed up to the northern end of the west coast (the West coast being the calmer and less exposed coast) with lures out all the way, we then headed out to sea approx. 2 kilometres to a FAD (Fish Aggregations Device – man-made structures to attract fish), it was here on our second pass of the FAD that we had our first strike…..the reel was screaming….Doug, already equipped with his gimbal, took the rod and started his battle with whatever was on the other end. To our delight, after a good battle and a pumped right bicep, we soon welcomed aboard a good-sized Wahoo, (11 kilo / 24 pound) a great eating fish, which we later discovered, at our skipper BJ’s restaurant, Vaiolama Caf. and Bar – a lovely little licensed restaurant with uninterrupted views out to the Pacific Ocean.

We continued to scoot around the FAD for another ten minutes with no takers, so decided to head back in closer to land, as the swell was increasing at this stage to between 2 to 3 metres and just starting to break. We trolled the entire West coast down to the bottom end of the island, past 6 or so FADs with no interest from those below. At this stage, now at the bottom end of the island, with the seas easing again, we headed back out to another FAD, again about 2kms offshore, on our second pass we hooked up to something that was a little angry about being hooked, after a 10-minute wrestle the line went limp, BJ believes it was a good-sized Yellow Fin Tuna that had been stolen from us, by a good sized shark…. You can’t muck about when these guys are around.On inspection of the recovered trace, it was evident that something with very sharp teeth, had taken our intended catch for his own lunch – bugger!

Again, being out a distance and a little exposed with the seas coming up again, we headed back in closer to shore, to a ‘shallower’ 275 metres, here we dropped some baits to see what we could find. There is a variety of resident fish species at this depth including Kusakari – Niue’s equivalent to New Zealand’s red snapper. On every drop, we had some interest, with only once, not collecting a catch, our reward was a few plump 5 kilo (11 pound) Kusakari, another great eating fish.

Feeling a little fatigued from our early start, some lumpy seas and the battle with our catch, we were more than happy to head back to the wharf, get a bite to eat, enjoy a shower and afternoon siesta. What a day, we spent the evening recounting one of our best days fishing in a very long time, an adventure strongly recommended, even for those who are not 100% ‘fisher people’ – this is as good as it gets if you ever wanted to experience deep sea game fishing, as Carla discovered on her first venture out to the deep blue waters!

Day Three was time for a chill day – we lazed around the pool, read books and after lunch, climbed aboard our trusty rental chariot to adventure across the island to the East Coast……quite an experience navigating the roads, completing a full circumference of the island. We could soon see why all the attractions were on the West Coast, being much calmer than the rugged exposed East coast. However it was a great way to spend an afternoon and we enjoyed seeing all of what Niue had to offer !

Day Four – we were ready for some more adventure, so what better, than a snorkelling day trip, to at least experience for ourselves what everyone at the resort was raving about! We had to be at Niue Blue at 8:30am. Niue Blue Island Experiences offer both snorkel and dive adventures, along with whale tours during the Whale migration season. They are the largest and most experienced watersports specialists on the island with highly qualified dive professionals run by a management team from NZ’s renowned Dive Tutakaka. Niue Blue offers gear hire, snorkelling and diving trips and training from beginners to advanced, as well as in-water Whale and Dolphin experiences. What a memorable experience this was to be for us! We headed out on their 6m NZ built Mac. This boat had been purpose built, and was perfect for our trip. We were briefed extremely well by Evan prior to heading off. Again, another experience at the wharf launching the boat, and in no time at all, we were back out in the deep blue sea, this time to jump in and swim amongst the wildlife. We were taken to a spot just south of the port where there were different depths, so we could experience the shallower areas and types of coral compared to the deeper areas, almost right next to each other dropping away at a 45 degree angle. There was some beautiful coloured older coral in the deeper areas. The coral in the shallower areas were smaller with less colour, as they were wiped out by Cyclone Tino approx. 3 years ago. There were many colourful fish to see here and we even got greeted by a moray eel, which according to Evan, was quite rare during the day, as they are more of a night creature. Carla, being a little less confident in the water, was looked after considerately by Evan, reassuring if you are not super confident. The second spot we were taken to will be unforgettable. We were lucky enough to experience this, as the tide was just right with the swell not too big. We snorkelled in single file to a cave known as “The Whale’s Belly”. Only being about a metre wide, we meandered through the narrow part first (known as “the throat”) and down into a bigger lagoon (known as “the belly”). The cave was approx. 30 metres long, with not too much sea life to look at (apart from a very friendly sea snake). But an incredible opportunity, one we felt very privileged to have experienced. After a short break, a warm cuppa tea and a gingernut, we headed off towards the north of the island to see if any dolphins may have been out and about (unfortunately not on this occasion).


Food and Restaurants…..for such a small island the choice of dining is reasonably good – although be wary when planning – the hours and days of opening can be quite fluid…we were told and experienced a couple of times!

MATAVAI RESORT – The best accommodation on the island (the only resort), comfortable modern accommodation, great food and service.

VAIOLAMA CAFÉ AND BAR – a lovely little licensed restaurant with uninterrupted views out to the Pacific Ocean.

HIO CAFÉ – a seaside red rustic container with diesel drum bar tables overlooking Hio sea – plus divine wood fired pizzas cooked on site.

NIUE ORIENTATION TOUR – Probably one of the most informative tours we have experienced – a must, to make the most of your time on the island.

NIUE 4X4 CAR RENTALS – a must have, to get about the island.

FISH NIUE CHARTERS – BJ! When experience counts – The man that put us on the fish!

NIUE BLUE ISLAND EXPERIENCES – The team that took us snorkelling at all the hot spots, another must do while visiting Niue.

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