Thursday, December 27, 2018

Niue - A Tiny Island Nation


We are in New Zealand but will be posting some catch-up info about our journey from French Poly to New Zealand. We've already done posts on Legs 1 and 2.

Moving West: 
Leg 1 Raiatea, French Polynesia to Palmerston, Cook Is. (Sept 23-28), 675 nm
Leg 2 To Beveridge Reef (Oct 5-7), 288 nm
Leg 3 To Niue (Oct 8-9),             142 nm

Leg 4 To Vavau, Tonga (Oct 12-14) 245 nm
Leg 5 To Nuku'alofa, Tonga (Oct 31-Nov 1) 168 nm
Leg 6 To Minerva Reef (Nov 7-8)     258 nm
Leg 7 To Opua,  New Zealand, (Nov 10-14) 787 nm
Total                                           2563 nm 

Niue is a tiny, independent island nation located in the triangle between Samoa, The Cook Islands and Tonga. Niue, a raised coral atoll approximately 100 square miles in size, is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand. Most of its diplomatic relations are conducted by New Zealand on its behalf. Niueans are New Zealand citizens and their currency is the NZ dollar. Many Niueans speak English although they have their own Polynesian-based language.

The first European to sight Niue was Captain Cook. He called the island "The Savage Island" because, as legend has it, the natives who "greeted" him had mouths that appeared to be smeared in blood. The substance on their teeth was actually hulahula, a native red banana. In short, Captain Cook was scared away by bananas. The Niueans were fine with that although in more modern times they didn't particularly care for being called The Savage Island. The name Niue means "Behold the coconut". 

Today they are not that sensitive about being The Savage Island as it makes for good marketing.

Niue faces a problem that many of the islands in the South Pacific are dealing with, dwindling populations (now only about 1600 persons). Most young people have to go to university in other countries such as New Zealand. Once they get used to the modern life of abundance many of them don't return permanently to their island nation. In fact, 95% of Niue's population live in NZ. Niue has implemented an interesting policy because of this. They have opened their island to anyone who wishes to live there, especially people on islands in danger of disappearing due to global warming, such as Kiribati.

Nevertheless, Niue does have a good tourist industry including snorkeling, diving, whale watching, deep sea fishing, hiking and biking, caving, golfing and more. There are (a whopping!) 2 plane flights a week from Auckland, NZ).

We left Beveridge Reef for Niue with our buddy boat Y2K and had a fairly uneventful overnight trip (148 nm) to Niue. We mostly had good wind, the seas weren't too bad, just an occasional big swell, minimal drama (except for a flying fish that ricocheted off Sylvia's head), and we arrived at Niue the next afternoon accompanied by dolphins and whales on a cloudy day. 

Land Ho!! Niue!

When we arrived in Niue we were with several other boats who had sailed there from Palmerston. We were very happy to see our friends Mick and Isabel on ONDULAR (Aussie and Ecuadorian, they are heading to Australia), Oskar and Lisa on HILMA (Swedish, they are heading north to Micronesia), and of course Y2K who journeyed with us from Beveridge Reef and will continue on to New Zealand. All the other boats who had been with us in Palmerston had bypassed Beveridge and Niue to go directly to Tonga. 

Niue currently has a terrific mooring field (~17 moorings) which is a good thing because there is no place to drop an anchor unless you are prepared to anchor in VERY DEEP water (>60 ft) with a rocky coral bottom. The moorings are in an open roadstead and are some of the best in the south pacific because they are regularly maintained by the tiny Niue Yacht Club ( Without the solid moorings, it would be much more difficult and risky to visit this place.

Cinnabar on her mooring in 60'.
Clear water, abundant coral and fish make for good snorkeling (nearer to shore).

After grabbing our mooring we dinghied in to shore to check in with customs. The concrete dock is high up so one of us (Sylvia) had to get off, climb up some slippery concrete stairs, and use a small boat crane to hoist the dinghy up onto the pier. (there are no beach landings - the island is surrounded by a cement-like coral rock apron).

We approach the dinghy dock and crane. Hmmm...

Actually it was no problem and they even had a hand trolley for moving the dinghy into a parking spot after hoisting. It might appear somewhat questionable, but this hoist system is quite ingenious, works pretty well, and is rather fun to negotiate.  

The day after we arrived we got a radio call from Max on Y2K. It was his birthday and he invited all of us to rendezvous that afternoon for drinks and dinner at one of the local restaurants. This was pretty much the same group that had dined together with Edward on Palmerston so it was a good excuse for a reunion. 

Alex from Y2K operates the dinghy hoist. (photo by Y2K)

Max's party with Max not in the picture! L to R Oskar and Lisa, Isa and Mick, Sylvia, Alex and Tom. (Photo by Y2K)

Not the same day but a good photo of Max (and Alex who reached their halfway-around-the-world point during their sail to Niue. Photo by Y2K)

After spending the evening celebrating we returned to our dinghies only to find that the swell had swung to the north and we were getting some healthy wraparound swell combined with an incoming tide which made boarding our dinghies quite challenging. 

Mick checks out the swell crashing against the concrete while we lower Hilma's dinghy.
(note the "best dock light" in all of Polynesia!)

Quick! Get in before the swell crashes you into the concrete!!

Nevertheless we all made it aboard and managed to get back safely to our boats. Whew!!

The next day, we rented a car with Mick and Isabel and toured around the island. Niue has very a dramatic coastline and numerous hiking "tracks", caves, caverns, and grottos which make for fun exploring.

We hike along the rugged Niue coastline.

Going down into the cavern.
Very impressive stalactite/stalagmite formation.

We snorkeled in the crystal clear grotto.
Beautiful coast and wacky tourists.

We'd heard about a crazy Sculpture Park on the island and decided to check it out. The Hikulagi Sculpture Park was established in 1997 by some local artists as a platform to create large format sculpture that discuss environmental issues with the idea that an island is a microcosm of the world. 

The sculptures use a lot of "found" materials, i.e. what was trash, and recycle it into art.

A good use of the plastic that had littered the beach.

A feature of the park is the Protean Habitat which invites visitors to leave their mark on Niue by adding to the sculpture. 

I don't think we added anything but we did pick a few things off the ground and re-installed them.

We felt there was much more to do on Niue (so we might return someday), but that wraparound swell from the north was making our anchorage uncomfortably bouncy. We bounced in Palmerston, we bounced in Beveridge, and now we were bouncing in Niue? No more bounce!! We checked the weather and decided it was a good weather window to head to northern Tonga. We said goodbye to Mick and Isa on ONDULAR, hoping to see them in Tonga, also goodbye to HILMA knowing it was unlikely we would cross paths again, and left with Y2K bound for the Vava'u group in Tonga.

Leg 3 Trip Totals:
Distance sailed  = 148 nautical miles  (Beveridge to Niue)
Duration           = 22.0 hrs.
Avg speed         = 6.5 kts. 
Motored            = 3.2 hrs.