Niue is a tiny emerald island set in the deep blue and grey of the vast Pacific Ocean. “The Rock”, as it’s called by Niueans in Aotearoa, is a coral atoll twice raised by underwater volcanic action, and now encircled by a 64km coastal road. The coast is indented with coves and chasms, and just beyond its narrow coral reef swim dolphins and whales , as well as deep-sea fish.
You can be very adventurous on Niue if you choose- bush walking through Huvalu forest, exploring caves and chasms, kayaking, deep sea fishing, crab hunting at night, swimming – in pools, or in the ocean with the whales and dolphins – scuba diving, snorkeling…you could be on the move all day every day for a week if you wished.
However, for us, on our third visit, we chose to connect with several local women we had met on previous stays, and spend time resting on the deck, watching the ocean crash on the reef and rocks below at full tide, and the colours changing on the coral reef and the ebbing sea later..or enjoying the cluck of the little black hens and their tiny black chicks as they search for crumbs and seeds among the coral rocks.
We’ve plucked a dozen highlights from our seven days on the island…
A tour of the west coast of the island with Vanessa Marsh, formerly manager of the Visitor Information Centre, now running her own business- an exceptionally lovely experience because of her deep knowledge as mana whenua and her ability to explain local geography, istory and culture from personal experience.
Vanessa’s morning tea for the group was unique too- three varieties of local dried and crispy food (taro, cassava, breadfruit), fresh papaya and coconut (including the “marshmallow” from inside a shooting nut, and fresh coconut water to drink.
An excellent Matavai barbecue buffet, and an exciting performance by the Niue High School dance group (including a proud 16-year-old girl, Mihe, with Down Syndrome). The group had been in Auckland in March to perform in Polyfest , where they delighted audiences too.
A two-hour tour of Maala, Doris and John Ranfurly’s organic gardens– a wonderful mix of tropical flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables, planted by a couple who love the land, and are devoted to helping it be productive and beautiful- an ongoing challenge on volcanic rock and coral, with droughts and storms.
Their successes are inspiring.
A return visit to the Hikulagi Sculpture Park, the creative recycling centre where Mark Cross has led community involvement in turning waste- especially old mechanical, electrical and domestic hardware- into evolving sculptures.
A visit to weaver Ahi Cross again in her Taiono Gallery, and a massage from her for Tanya later in the day
A fine meal at Kai Ika Café, owned by an Israeli-Niuean couple, with a Japanese chef, staffed by the couple’s lively, articulate teenage daughters, and serving three kinds of top-quality food: Middle-Eastern and Japanese dishes, and New York pizzas.
Church on Sunday at Avatele, the little coastal village south of Matavai. A congregation of 60 or more Niueans, with unaccompanied traditional singing to make your spine tingle. Spirited children, indulged and enjoyed. Women in beautiful white dresses and hats. A welcome from the minister.
A walk through the bush on the south coast at Hakupu, then the climb down 155 steps into the Anapala Chasm– increasingly narrow, steep and dark, to a fresh-water pool at the bottom, then up again..and out to the coastal cliff to watch huge breakers and blowholes along the reef and up
the cliffs both ways…
A visit to the 6am village market in Alofi with coconut porridge (“nane”) for breakfast, and tables of weaving, fruit , vegetables, shell and seed jewellery; chatting to the kuia on the stalls (some curious about our relationship!). And talking to a craftwomen’s group at Matavai, with their weaving and embroidery.
Meeting some of the Hopotoa whanau: Luiza and her daughter Mihe and son Jin Nam after the High School performance, and Jin Nam again at their home, where he is creating beautiful pendants from island crystals and ‘sea maple’ wood.
The tourism infrastructure on Niue is not sophisticated, but if you are open to the friendly and generous Niuean people (who are very easy with NZ tourists as they all have family in New Zealand and travel there themselves) , and the natural beauty of the island, magical things will happen for you.