The sun came out this morning. We were shocked. We hadn't seen it in a week. Of course it was our last day. We did get a little shower in the afternoon but in general the weather finally seems to be clearing.
There are some disturbances south of our position but the forecast at this latitude is for trade winds for the next few days. Just what the doctor ordered for a passage to Tonga. We will leave early tomorrow and should arrive late the day after.
Thulani and Independent Freedom left today, but we hope to catch up to them and arrive the same day. It is Tuesday here so we will leave Wednesday and arrive Friday, Niue time. However Tonga has moved itself across the dateline so we will actually arrive Saturday (and pay overtime to the officials for it).
Clearing out of Niue was easy. We visited the yacht club to pay the $10NZ a day mooring fee. Then on to immigration (the police station) to get the passports stamped. Finally to customs to get a departure clearance and pay the $30NZ per person departure tax.
I also called Northland Spars and Rigging in New Zealand while ashore, to give them credit card info for the parts they shipped us. I can't say enough about the service provided by Susan and Paul there. I sent one sail mail email over the SSB and before I knew it the parts we needed to fix the traveler were waiting in Niue for us. I would highly recommend these folks.
The Niue telecom office is right in the main shop area in town. They have two booths with regular household phones in them. You pick up the phone and the operator connects you (almost like Petticoat Junction) and when your done you go to the counter and pay. Very civilized.
The shops had a pretty limited selection of groceries but I bought some juice and milk anyway. There is a ship coming in Friday and it will take two days to unload. I suppose Monday is the day to go shopping. The bond store by customs was out of beer but had duty free liquor and wine, so I picked up some Australian vino for the week ahead.
Back at the boat Hideko was getting things ready for sea. I put away Charlie's Charts of Polynesia for the first time since leaving the Galapagos. This is certainly the MVP cruising guide in our collection for all of the islands east of 165W.
We also tested the BGAN sat system to see if the Pacific satellite was operational yet. No luck. We'll probably be in the Med on the Indian Ocean satellite before they get it sorted out.
We really loved our time in Niue. Captain Cook called it the savage island because the natives repelled him when he tried to visit. It is now the polar opposite, certifiably the nicest place we have visited, people wise. They also call Niue, The Rock, which is a name it does deserve. It will be sad to sail off, but the cyclones are coming and we have to be moving on.
We were planning on leaving tomorrow but the weather in these parts has just not been so great. It has been overcast every day for the last week and the activity between here and Tonga has been disturbed. No wind, squalls, or fronts seems to be all we get. That said it is lovely in Niue and although it sprinkles now and again, there are no crazy rain storms and it is cooler than it would be otherwise.
We also didn't get around to clearing out today and we want to leave early on the day we go so that we'll get in late the following day. If we don't take off first thing we run the risk of having to slow down and double overnight it. No great problem just less time enjoying the islands. So it looks like we'll be taking off the day after tomorrow.
We used our time today to make one last jerry jug diesel run in the morning and pick up our propane tanks. The Niue propane shop had no problem filling out tanks so we are set for a good 4 months plus. We also have plenty of diesel to motor to Fiji and beyond should the need arise. We have been running the genset a lot though to keep the dive compressor in business.
After the morning chores we hit the Uga Café for lunch. They make a very tasty steak Panini and have good coffee. Next stop was the yacht club to say hi to the yachties limin' there. Our final stop was Alofi Rental to pick up a motor bike for our island circumnavigation. The 125cc Suzi was only $25 a day and had plenty of guts to get up the very steep hills leading back from the beaches with Hideko and I aboard.
Our tour of the island was fantastic. Niue is an amazing place. Most tropical islands have one stunning grotto to check out. Niue is replete with them. Every place you hike down to from the limestone perimeter is a picturesque lagoon with crystal clear rock pools, stone arches, caves and lush greenery climbing over the lot of it.
The reef right below the Uga café is lovely if you want a spot close to the quay. We stopped by the Niue Dive center, which is right next to Matavai resort, the only resort on the island. The dive center folks are great and super friendly about letting yachts use their dive moorings (for diving) if you check with them first to make sure they won't be using them. We bought a nice Dive Niue shirt and headed on around the island.
There's a nice little boat ramp in Avatele in the southwest corner of Niue. These little ramps are all around the island if you know where to look. They all drop into a pool of protected water and then typically feed out through a rather hairy and shallow pass to sea.
Crossing the south end of the island you come to the Noni farm. Noni is a nasty tasting fruit that is rumored to produce a revitalizing nectar. A tablespoon a day is suggested, which is good because you probably couldn't choke much more down.
The ride through the southeast part of the island is through the shadows of the rain forest and national park. It is an enchanting place to pass through. The tourism map shows several paths to the ocean here, some of which are highly recommended. Hideko and I only stopped when we saw signs though because we were trying to get all the way around in an afternoon. I suppose you could do the circuit in a couple of hours is you just drove fast but if you stop often you will need a day to do it right. We were hustling and trying to pick the best spots to visit.
In Liku on the east coast we found a wonderful path leading to a cave where two local kayaks were carefully stored. Down below was a complement of crashing surf with a small apron of protective reef. A thin strip of the reef made an artificial ramp where we assumed the owners of the boats would launch in calmer conditions (3 meter seas today). As we looked around here we sighted a group of Humpback whales just off shore. We were mesmerized watching the huge creates from our perch up in the cliffs.
After a number of other interesting stops we made our way across the north coast. Here you find the highest point on Niue. I don't know how high it is but it can't be much more than 300 feet. There is a motel and a group of lovely cabin rentals in the area. The northwest part of the island has perhaps some of the most spectacular stops. The arches, the chasm and the Limu Pools are all must see spots. It would be a great idea to bring swimsuits and snorkeling gear and spend the day between the three.
It is funny, but when there are ten boats in an anchorage, it is hard not to run across just about all of them when you are bopping around a small island. We ran across the Ino crew at the arches just as a nice little batch of rain started up. We wanted to give them a ride back to the quay but our circus skills were not up to par and more than two on that bike would have required such. They ended up getting a lift from some friendly locals.
After dropping off the bike we set about lowering the dink back into the water. Some friendly Ozys helped us and we were off in no time. The Ino crew was back at the quay at this point so we dropped them off and stopped by Godspede to see how they were doing with their cutlass bearing repair. They had it whipped into jury rig shape, said thanks for asking, and handed us some freshly seared tuna. Jeff is a chef and it was ridiculously good. If this isn't good incentive to check in on your neighbors I don't know what is!
10/05/2008, South of the Anchorage
It is Sunday in Niue. To say Niue shuts down on Sunday would be an understatement. We decided to spend the day on the boat and we wanted to get in some diving but most activities on Sunday are prohibited. We called Niue Radio to ask if diving around the anchorage would be ok and the radio operator said that they thought it would be fine. I think that since we are out in the anchorage and not disturbing the folks on shore she felt we would not be a distracting influence. We have since heard to opinions to the contrary.
If was another gray day but that never stops us from diving. The Godspede crew and the Ino crew were interested in checking out the dive sites south of the anchorage so we made a run down that way in the afternoon. It was a nice dive on a 100 foot bottom with a chasm to the south and a swim through arch. Lots of highly venomous but aloof sea snakes and plenty of fish about.
In retrospect I would advise a full suit, gloves and booties. The sea snakes really are not a problem but just in case you accidentally bumped one or scared it the penalty for getting bit would be extremely high as there are few things in the world more venomous. That said, their mouths are pretty small and they would have a hard time biting anything much bigger than you pinky.
After the dive we filled tanks, made lattes and had a great chat aboard Swingin' on a Star. Roq was very happy to entertain all of the company.
10/04/2008, Northwest Niue
It was another gray day today. These are often good days to go diving. The Ino crew had met some Marine Biology students ashore who knew some good spots up the island.
In the early afternoon, Hideko and I headed over to Ino to join the dive excursion. We tied our dinghy up on their mooring and piled on Ino, a 40 foot steel sloop. Ino's skipper, Marnix, is a young doctor from Kenya and he has British Ben, Divemaster Hanna, and Maria from Greece crewing for him. Jeff from Ogopgo and Paul from Independent Freedom also joined for the day. Add Mike and Doman, the marine bio guys, and you have a healthy crew of 10.
Ino is a pretty neat yacht. She has a lifting keel and can get into places even we can't with Swingin' on a Star. She also has a very open layout below making her feel large for a 40 footer. There is an identity crisis going on however. Marnix seems to think she is a sport fisher. They rarely leave the anchorage without a good five lines in the water. On the way to the dive site Ino picked up a 25 pound Wahoo. We had fantastic sashimi on the way to the dive.
Once at the site Paul and Maria stood off with Ino and the rest of us jumped in to check out an 80 foot chasm. It was a great dive. We were inspected by a huge snapper upon entry. We saw many sea snakes and a 6 foot moray, along with many interesting limestone formations.
It was a blustery day and we had a nice sail back to the anchorage. Everyone was enjoying Ben's coffee and tea on the way back to the mooring field, seeing as how the sun was not fulfilling its responsibilities today. Back at the boat Marnix distributed Wahoo to everyone as we all headed home for the night.
A very fun day indeed.
Our friends on Godspede, a 40 foot Swan, made their way in to Niue today. They had a rough time because the weather the last few days has been hostile and they had a problem with their main and their auxiliary, so they sailed in under jib alone.
Once they were in the neighborhood the local yachts cooped to help them onto a mooring (tough to jib sail it with 25-30 knots on the nose). Thulani tied up to the port and we tied up on the starboard. Ino grabbed the mooring for them and the Godspede crew did a great job of bringing her in.
In the evening we joined Independent Freedom for an entertaining dinner party with Thulani. A great time was had by all.
It has been pretty gray today but no rain yet. We stopped in to look around Alofi this morning. Alofi is the capital of Niue and there are a number of little restaurants and shops in town. We joined up with Thulani and Independent Freedom to make a diesel run with jerry jugs. Ernie from the yacht club drove us for the price of his gas. The yacht club is a great asset to the cruising community.
In the afternoon we joined up with the crew of Ino for a scuba dive in the anchorage. There are lots of sea snakes here and we saw three pretty big ones on our dive. The anchorage has many interesting limestone structures but not a lot of coral. The combination of fish and sea snakes made it a very interesting dive though.
We arrived in Niue last night about an hour before sunset. On approach we hailed the Niue Yacht Club on 16 and they directed us to the last mooring available. The yacht club guys are awesome. Call them and they will help you with everything you need. Their only fee is 10 NZ (maybe $8 US) a day for the mooring. You pay this to anchor as well but after diving in the anchorage I would advise against anchoring. There are some sandy channels between the coral spurs but you have to be lined up with them or your chain will be pulled across a coral ridge, greatly reducing the angle of the chain to the anchor shank, and thus your effective scope. This is also hard on the coral and your chain (rope is a non starter).
You would be better off anchoring a bit farther back in the 80 foot water where there is a sandy shelf. I don't know how thick the sand is though so I can't comment on the holding. The yacht club has 20 moorings and at this time of year they are highly contested for. It is not unusual to see yachts rafted together in stable conditions.
Once settled on our mooring we put the boat away a bit more than normal when in a roadstead. I like to have the boat ready to sail at all times when in this type of anchorage. That said we were expecting 25-30 knots of wind and 3.5 meter short seas this afternoon. The island was between us and the weather but just barely for the first few hours and I didn't know what to expect. The mooring looked good though and the island rises up sharply in front of us to about 100 feet. This is usually the best kind of protection from the wind. Cliffs too tall have funky drafts that can make strong wind worse. Sea level atolls do nothing to stop the wind. Islands like this, especially if you can get in fairly close to a low cliff, send the wind whipping by just overhead, taking all of the windage out of the anchorage.
That all said the variables are many and you never do know for sure until you've been in a spot in various conditions. We zipped up the sail bag, put on the facing canvas, moused the halyards away from the mast and put up the cockpit enclosure to keep things as streamlined and dry as possible. If nothing else I was expecting the swell to bend around into the mooring field with some authority for several hours. While no one likes a swell on the beam, a catamaran is certainly the preferable platform for such events.
The Niue yacht club told us that things were pretty much shut down on the island so we flew the Q and shut down as well.
In the morning we hailed Niue Radio for clearance into Niue. The Niue Yacht club is a private outfit that runs the moorings, onshore showers and restrooms, a bar and grill (with tasty food and smoothies), and provides all sorts of services including propane fills, trips to the gas station for diesel or gasoline, laundry and whatever else you might want.
Niue Radio is the government run VHF station that takes care of the formalities. They will get your boat details over the radio and when you're ready send customs out. The customs officer waited on the quay for us. I picked him up in the dinghy and he inspected our boat (fairly thoroughly I might add). He was particularly interested in fire arms and asked a few leading questions to see if my story would change. He wanted to know our route over the last 6 months. After I told him he made me fire up the chart plotter to see if our track agreed. It was sort of comical. I asked him if they had a big smuggling problem on the one island nation of Niue. He had no comment but I think I embarrassed him enough that he finally quit digging around our house.
After dropping the customs guy back at the quay we lifted the dinghy out with the crane. Niue has no harbors, no marinas, no docks and no beaches safe for landing. It is a raised coral atoll and the cliffs rise up about 100 feet from a sea level coral apron with no deep indents in the entire circumference. This leaves an open roadstead mooring field and a concrete quay that is very lively as the only access by sea. If you were to tie your dink up at the quay for any period of time it would be pounded to a pulp on the huge tires strapped along the concrete wall. The swell surges through the area rising two to three feet on a mellow day.
To solve this problem the quay has a self service crane on top with a big hook for lifting boats onto the platform. It is actually fairly easy to use. We just ran a piece of line trough the lifting eyes in our AB to create a four point harness, then we tied loops in the lines such that the boat would be evenly distributed on the legs going down to the eyes. Hideko jumped ashore and lowered the hook. I put the three eyes (one from the port bow to the port stern, on from the starboard bow to the starboard stern and one from the port to starboard stern) on the hook and wait until she lifts it enough to make it taught. Once the boat is lifting I hop out and we pivot the crane over the quay and lower away. There is a little hand truck with a big flat bed for moving the dinghies about the quay on busy days.
A bit of work, yes, but you will never feel more secure about you dinghy than when it is high and dry like this. I was impressed to see a good sized steel fishing boat hauled out with this rig. It is a substantial crane. I can imagine conditions getting too rough to make use of the system though.
Once ashore we stopped in at the yacht club to say hi to some of the yachties hanging out. Adventure, Independent Freedom, Thulani, and some of the crew from Ogopogo were there. After a tasty smoothie we rambled down to the Police station to clear immigration. It was fast and easy. They took my photo and charged me $10NZ for a Nuie driver's license (nice souvenir), which you must acquire to drive on the island.
We had lunch at a little coffee shop across from the police station. The coffee shop looks over an amazing little lagoon. You would think that Niue would be a boring island, coastline wise, and from sea, perhaps it is. However, every inch of the coast line is intriguing when explored from land or by dinghy. The water is amazingly clear, whales frequently visit the anchorage, and every inch of the coastline is riddled with limestone caves, arches, depressions and little lagoons within the coral apron that surrounds the island. It is really spectacular.
The people here are also amazingly friendly and helpful. I have said this about most of Polynesia but I have to say that Niue is the friendliest place we have been yet.