Farewell to Niue
23 August 2009
We were still waiting for a mooring on Sunday night. In the early hours of the morning, the wind changed through nearly 180 degrees very rapidly. We had Hokus Pokus and Esperanza anchored quite close to us, and it was touch and go as we all swung around, hooking up on coral outcrops below. At one point, Hokus Pokus was within a few feet of us. Our snubber (the device we attach to the chain to provide some stretch under sudden load) fell off and there was a series of very loud crunches and violent jerks as our chain hooked up very short, then the swells ripped it loose. We settled down to the new wind direction. It seems that the folks on Esperanza slept through it all, then woke up several hours later---we were treated to wild yelling and shouting in some Scandinavian language, then a panicked call on the radio for someone to dive to free their anchor. The captain of Dosia responded in his dinghy with scuba gear and helped them get free. It seems they were thoroughly spooked by the whole episode, as they immediately raised their sail and headed off in the direction of Tonga, having not checked in with the Niue authorities.
Content soon had a mooring, and as we were preparing to take Victory Cat's mooring, I noticed that Contrails seemed to be further away than I remembered, so I called Jim who was ashore with his hand held VHF radio, offering to check it out. He'd just seen the same thing and said he would take care of it. By the time he launched his dinghy and caught up with her, she was nearly half a mile out to sea. The wind change had freed his anchor. Since these islands all drop off to several miles deep a very short distance away from them, his anchor must have reached deep water quite quickly. If the wind had been in the other direction, driving the boat toward the shore, the anchor would probably have caught again as it got shallower.
By mid-morning, all of the boats at anchor had moved to moorings vacated by departing boats, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. The moorings here are serviced regularly, and the yacht club claims they've never lost a boat due to mooring failure. They told us of one fellow who was on a mooring when the wind came up strongly from the north west, directly into the anchorage. He decided it was not safe to stay, started his engine and cast off from the mooring buoy. However, his engine was not powerful enough to punch into the seas, and he soon ended up with a line around his propeller, drifting towards the reef. Niue has no rescue boats, but by an amazing coincidence, a National Geographic boat appeared on the horizon and steamed to help. They launched two large inflatable tenders, and moments before the yacht ended up on the reef, they managed to attach to lines and pull him away.
There is a local market on Tuesday and Friday mornings, starting at 5:30 am. We'd been told that all of the produce was usually gone by 8:30 am, so Tane and I went in around 7:30 am. We discovered that everything was gone by 7:30 am. There were still some trussed up coconut crabs, plenty of taro root, and a few bundles of the local green leaf "spinach" (which is excellent), but very little else aside from the crafts and doughnuts. Oh well. We did try some coconut and arrowroot porridge, served in a half coconut shell and found it very filling. Mid-morning, we got on our bikes and headed for Talava arches and Matapa chasm with Graham and Sue from Chandreka, and Nick and Marls from Content to do some rock climbing and bouldering. Graham and Sue are avid rock climbers, and before going cruising, Nick and Marls spent most of their vacations climbing. Top ropes were set up over an arch and an overhang and the climbing began. Graham was the only one that I saw managing to complete the arch climb, which had a significant region where you were essentially clinging to the underside of the arch. Marls was just about to complete the arch when she let out a loud yell of pain and let go to swing wildly on the top rope --- she had pulled or torn a muscle and came down in serious pain. It was very difficult for her to walk out to the road again, and riding back to town was an ordeal. Tane, Tomas and I attempted only the overhang, with varying degrees of success, mine the least! We then moved around to the chasm to try deep water soloing --- you climb a face over water until you either fall or feel you are high enough, then fall back into the water which is very deep. By the time we were done, it was another ride home in the dark.
That evening, we ate at Jenna's --- she is a local who does a buffet of local dishes every Tuesday for NZ$32. We went along with Nick, Marls, Jim, Barbara and Mats and Ulla from Hokus Pokus, an eternally cheerful Swedish couple. It's a BYO and we'd not had time to return to the boat for drinks to bring, so Tane, Tomas and Nick went off in search of wine and beer. They managed to buy some at the Indian restaurant down the street, after an hilarious episode where the proprietor didn't understand that they were trying to bargain and kept repeating the original price. When he finally realized they were bargaining, he immediately agreed to the offered price! The spread at Jenna's was fantastic, and included raw fish in coconut milk, seared tuna, battered albacore, tapioca chips (fries), green tapa leaf sauce, taro, rice, and many other items. Dessert of icecream, peaches and chocolate cake came last, accompanied by a couple of ladies singing and playing guitar. When we went to leave, Jenna insisted on everyone taking all of the leftovers, so we left with huge foil-covered stacks on paper plates, enough for two more meals the following day. The quality of the food was excellent, and the quantity effectively unlimited.
On Wednesday we rode across the island to Vaikona chasm. Marls had traded her bicycle for a motorcycle (she was almost unable to walk!) and Tomas decided to do the same---was he a little ragged from all of the riding? The motorcyclists roared ahead to check out side rides, so when we arrived at the path to Vaikona, there was no sign of them. We waited, eating lunch, but still no Marls and Tomas, so we started the 20 minute walk towards the coast. We met three people who were returning, and they gave us instructions for traversing the caves. The path goes through the rainforest and about half way, you start seeing, and walking through, fantastic limestone shapes. This may have been the fringing reef before the island rose. It is now eroded into spikes, arches, and crevasses, with very sharp points, some up to 20 feet high. In the middle of this fantasy forest, we came upon the sign announcing the chasm---a small hole through which we could see sloping rock and water far below. It was a fairly technical scramble to get down to the water. From there, we swam about 30 meters through a clear, deep pool to a triangular cleft at the opposite end. Tane turned on his dive light and swam under the water through to the next cave, then returned to let us know the drill. In the second cave, we needed lights. We swam to the end of the pool, clambered over a rock fall then descended into another water-filled cavern through a small hole. Again, we swam to the end, then had to dive under the rock to come out into a third cavern. It was a steep climb on a rope into the cavern which was filled with stalagtites and mites, tufa(s)?, pools and unusual limestone formations. We had all forgotten whether we had to turn left or right at the top of the rope. We first went left, and explored some distance towards the sea until the water below was surging with the waves, then explored the right hand side. This was the correct one, and after some interesting climbing, we emerged in daylight through a narrow spikey hole, near the eastern coast. The limestone spikes were covered with thick ground plants, but there was a faintly visible track to the coast, where we watched the surf crashing on the ledges, sending great spouts of foam into the sky. We'd been told to go to the coast, then head north, and this we did. We'd also read in the Lonely Planet guide that the author had lost his way at this very spot, and spent two hours going 100 meters to get out. However, by going close to the cliff edge, we had easy going until we reached the main path which took us back to the cave entrance. Tomas was waiting for us there. He'd gone down into the first cave looking for us, but did not know where to dive, nor did he have the full set of instructions. Given our glowing descriptions of the adventure, he made Tane promise that they'd both return as soon as possible. Tane, Tomas, and I then headed south and west around the island to the Matavai resort where we'd arranged to meet with Dive Niue to arrange for a dive the following morning. This took several hours, and once again, we rode the final leg in the dark. We figured we'd ridden at least 150K by this time, with a significant portion in the dark.
We'd arranged for a taxi to collect us and our dive gear at the wharf on Thursday morning at 7 am. Dive Niue has two rigid inflatable dinghies which carry four divers each. They were fully booked up except for Thursday, so we'd taken the only spaces available. The dinghies were launched in front of the wash away cafe, and we motored a short distance out to a buoy. The first dive was deep at first, then we came back to around 10-15 meters to the area they call Snake Gully. Here, you encounter sea snakes in large numbers. They spend their time on the bottom for the most part, ascending to the surface from time to time for air. This means that if you look along the reef, you see snakes ascending and descending as far as you can see into the distance. They are extremely poisonous but non-agressive, and Ian, our dive master, showed us how to hold one of them, warning beforehand that if we tried it, and the snake struggled to get away, to be sure to let go immediately. We'd been told to expect relatively little sea life because (a) the cyclone (hurricane) of 2004 had destroyed the coral formations, and (b) the amazing clarity of the water here is due to the fact that there are fewer nutrients in the water, so relatively less sea life is supported. However, we were pleasantly surprised to see plenty of fish of all sorts. Nick, off on his own on the second dive, saw a sea turtle and an octopus as well. Between the dives, we were taken across the bay to where two whales had surfaced. We were instructed to slip into the water quietly with our snorkeling gear, not to dive, and to keep movement and splashing to a minimum. Once in the water, we could see the two whales motionless, about 30 meters below us. We lay quietly on the surface for about 5 minutes, when both whales slowly turned, pointed up directly towards us and began rising. We all had the same thought---wait a minute, two huge whales are ascending directly towards us---do we try to get out of the way? Nobody moved, and as they neared us, both whales turned slightly and we were eye to eye as they passed majestically by a few meters away to breath and descend again. The price of the dive trip was worth it for this experience alone! Our second dive was to a cavern and then a narrow, multi-branched cave that, at one point, had around 30 painted lobsters (crayfish) on the roof---we'd been given instructions that they were to remain there!
Dive Niue is run by an Australian couple, Ian and Annie. They do a great job, each leading a boat dive. The visibility is excellent, at least 5 meters, although not quite the equal of Beveridge reef. We thoroughly recommend taking a dive or two with them.
Dinner that evening was with Nick and Marls on Content, which is a Crealock 37. On Friday, Tomas and I made it to the market early enough to get some cucumbers. The south pacific convergence zone had moved in overnight, so the next few days were cloudy and raining. Tane and Tomas did the Vaikona chasm trip and visited Togo chasm --- Tane had exchanged his bicycle for a motorcycle, to make the trip quicker (so he says). We went through the checkout procedure, in preparation for departing early Sunday morning.
We spent Saturday during the day getting the boat ready for departure, and joined Jim and Barbara, along with the crews of Content and Hokus Pokus, for Barabara's birthday celebration. After a quick bread and garbage run on Sunday morning, we left for Nukualofa, Tonga, at 8:30 am.ad and garbage run, left at 8:30 am.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Niue, and consider it one of the best islands, if not the best, of the entire trip.