Adventures in Niue, by Brian

Niue is unlike any other South Pacific island we’ve visited.  60 foot limestone cliffs replace beaches, underground caverns replace a mountainous interior, and the dinghy dock is a huge electric crane you get to operate yourself (very cool). 

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Dinghy crane at the Niue public dock 

The surrounding water is very deep and the limestone bottom makes for poor holding.  Fortunately the Niue Yacht Club maintains a dozen or so moorings, providing peace of mind with 4,000 pounds of concrete holding you in place.

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Niue is best seen by land as the vertical cliff faces surrounding the island make landing a dinghy impossible.  We opted to rent a car along with Ghost and Jackster for a weekend of exploring.  It was a great deal and the cheapest rental we’ve found so far in the South Pacific- pick up  on Friday and return by Monday for $112 NZ, or about $85 US.  We began bright and early departing the dinghy crane at 7AM and driving across the island to what the locals referred to as “The Show”.

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Breakfast at the local show

Not sure what to expect we arrived at an island style fair with a few craft demonstrations, trinkets for sale, food tents, and a huge dance floor.  It wasn’t long before the announcer kicked off  dance aerobics and  local islanders of varying levels of fitness (read not very fit) began gyrating themselves to 80’s American dance music, making quite a sight at 8:00AM.  By far the coolest thing we saw were tremendously huge coconut crabs, so large they were tied with rope to stakes in the ground.  One of the monsters even pulled their stake out and went scurrying around causing some commotion.  The claws on these bad boys could easily take a finger off.

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A HUGE COCONUT CRAB

Seeing enough of “The Show” we proceeded to the North side of the island to visit a few of the sights noted on our tourist map, including the site where legend has it the original native settlers landed on Niue making “Penis” landing possible.  We had a picture of the entire sign below describing the history around this landing but unfortunately we can’t find it.  From what we vaguely remember it involved a naked Samoan swimming to shore to populate the island.

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Penis landing

The topography of Niue is what makes this island so cool.  The 100 square mile island is is composed of ancient coral, raised out of the sea on a limestone base.  Apparently the island is still being pushed skyward by geologic activity, and millennium from now they’ll need a much longer rope on the dinghy crane.  This unique set of conditions has created grottos, caverns, and a very impressive shoreline with huge ocean swells pounding into the cliff faces.

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A huge wave hitting Brady and Brad

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Brian and Brady overlooking Penis landing

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Years of erosion carved out the limestone

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Huge limestone arch at low tide

We took time after our hike to cool off in the sheltered waters of two different swimming holes.  According to the tourist info these spots were reserved for Niue royalty and nobles.  Commoners had to swim elsewhere. The water here is brackish, being a mixture of fresh water runoff on the top and saltwater from the ocean a few feet below.   There was a huge temperature difference between the cool fresh water layer and the warmer ocean water beneath, making for an interesting thermo cline layer visible only a few feet below the surface.

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Erin and Kat going for a dip in the royal swimming hole

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Another protected swimming hole

On Sunday we explored two sights on the South side of the island- Vaikona Cave and Togo Chasm.  Vaikona was a 45 minute trek through an ancient petrified coral garden complete with fossilized sea creatures.  The landscape felt like something from another planet as we wondered through coral pinnacles surrounded by large ferns.  It was amazing to walk through structures that we would normally see with SCUBA gear under water.

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Trekking to Vaikona Cave

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Group photo time

We reached Vaikona Cave, removed our day packs, and squeezed through the narrow entrance.  After scrambling down a few slippery limestone slopes the cavern opened up to reveal a large chamber with an inviting swimming pool.  Between us and our refreshing swim was a 20 foot vertical drop.  Previous explorers had left lines running down the cliff face.  It was a bit tricky but we made it down to the bottom without too much trouble.

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Squeezing into the Vaikona entrance

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Almost there!

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Hole in the ceiling of Vaikona letting some light in

The pool was completely still and inviting.  It didn’t take us long to put on our snorkel gear and jump in for a refreshing dip.  We swam to the back of the pool and dove down 10 feet, discovering the entrance to another cave we’d read about.  Holding our breath with dive lights in our hands we swam into the darkness emerging into the pitch black.  The experience was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

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Swimming into the darkness to the second cave

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Brad and Kat after a successful swim to the second cave

A few of us turned back but Brady, Brad, and myself continued in this manner exploring another 3 caves back, heading hundreds of feet into the darkness.  Every once in a while a shaft of light would penetrate from the porous limestone ceiling but for the most part it was pitch black.  The water in all these caves was over 40 feet deep but crystal clear making it easy to see the bottom contour with our lights.  A few times we turned off all lights and let our senses take in the incredible darkness and quiet.  We could only manage this for less than a minute at a time before one of us chickened out and turned their light back on.  I couldn’t help but imagine an undiscovered cave monster coming up from the depths each time the lights went out.

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Brady at the back of the second cave

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Exploring the darkness in the third cave

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A small pool of water leading to the 4th and final cave

A picture of Togo Chasm graces the front of every tourism brochure and map in Niue.  A short hike from the parking lot brings you to a picturesque overlook of the Pacific Ocean.  Another 15 minute hike down a well maintained trail you arrive at an expansive sand filled, palm tree studded chasm.  A sturdy ladder takes you to the bottom 50 feet below where you can explore this amazingly beautiful area.

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On the way to Togo Chasm

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Ladder leading to the bottom of Togo Chasm

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Bottom of Togo Chasm

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Pool at the back of Togo

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From the back of Togo looking towards the ladder

After our explorations we quenched our thirst and hunger with a visit to the Washaway Cafe, aptly named because I believe it gets destroyed in every cyclone that rips through.  The Washaway has amazing cheeseburgers, and even more importantly a great selection of cheap beer and mixed drinks.  To make it even cooler the Washaway is a serve yourself honor bar.  No waiting for a bar tender- just grab what you want and put your money right in the till!

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Brad grabbing a cold one at the Washaway Cafe

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Kat running the till at the Washaway Cafe

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Brady hanging with the locals

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Erin with the her biggest fan- the strange polish expat

The diving in Niue was excellent and we did three separate dives right from our boat on the mooring.  Due to the lack of dirt and rivers on the island the visibility is regularly 100 feet or more.

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Bottom topography under Delos

The highlight of diving in Niue is the abundance of black and white striped sea snakes.  Apparently they are poisonous but their mouths are too small to bite so you can get quite close to them.

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Sea Snake up close

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Huge sea cucumber

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Lion fish- beautiful but deadly!

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The generosity and friendliness we encounter on each island continues to amaze us, and Niue was a stellar example.  Nearly everyone we spoke with from officials to locals to expats asked us the same question:  “How did you find Niue?”  My immediate thought was “Well, it’s clearly marked on the charts.”  But after a split second of hesitation I realized that everyone was genuinely concerned with our time on their island, and that they wanted to make sure we got the most of it.  After a long day of exploring we headed to the only Indian restaurant on the island.  We pulled into the back of a tiny shack with a porch.  Although the restaurant was closed the proprietor quickly opened his door for us.  A few short minutes later we saw him race to the store to buy what was needed for our lunch.  We felt truly welcome on this island and would gladly recommend any fellow travelers to come and check out Niue.