Let’s keep Niue a pacific secret
Little known to tourists, compared to its more famous neighbours, Niue has a charm of its own, Tasha Black discovers.
I’ll tell you a secret – just don’t tell anyone else: There’s a place, not too far from here, where you can leave your car unlocked, swim all day and children run around barefoot.
The sun is warm, you can go fishing off the rocks, and the best part is you’ve got the place to yourself. But not for long. Niue, just a dot in the South Pacific, wants a slice of the tourist dollar.
I booked a room in Niue Backpackers for a week-long visit in June.
My host, Ira Merrifield, sent me a chatty email just before we arrived.
‘‘Just to let you know the shipment of beer did not make the supply boat that has just left. So the island is running out of beer.’’
This didn’t sound good. The next supply boat was a month away.
‘‘If you like a cold one it may pay to bring some with you,’’ she emailed.
Niue’s charm is endearing. Only some of the roads are paved, houses are left unlocked and keys left in the car ignition.
There is one flight in and one flight out a week. Ira’s husband Brian was late picking us up from the airport. It had been a hectic day, he apologised.
It was hard to imagine what could be hectic about life on Niue. For most of my time on the island it seemed everybody was strolling around in jandals, sitting down having a chat with a friend or out fishing.
The guest house, overlooking the reef, was breezy and bach-like and best of all, we had it to ourselves. It had mis-matched crockery, board games and old National Geographic magazines sitting on the shelves.
We took a ride on the back of Brian’s pick-up truck to Hakupu Village Fair the next day. The truck had a hole in the floor and a spanner was attached to the window winder.
It’s no limousine, he laughed. We travelled in style, sitting at a picnic table on the back of the truck, our spines jolting along a mix of dirt and paved roads.
The fair was busy with children racing bicycles, parents buying food and officials giving speeches. I chose a barbecue meal and picked my way through a gristly steak, coleslaw, chicken, taro and a can of Fanta.
The New Zealand High Commissioner, Mark Blumsky said hello. The former mayor of Wellington was strolling along in shorts and T-shirt with a large bunch of bananas over his shoulders. A rather plum job he has.
We applied for the necessary Niuean driver’s license and picked up our rental car – an old banger with a rattling sound and a broken window.
Our trusty wheels took us all around the island, bumping over pot holes at the speed limit of 60kmh.
Sunglasses and suncream were dug out of the bag as we explored the rocky coastline. Fishing gear sat waiting on rocks.
There was never a worry of someone stealing your stuff. We left the keys in the car. The door to the guest house was left open. The only visitors were a friendly dog and Ira leaving us paw paw on the dining table.
We sought shelter from the heat – most days were about 27 degrees Celsius – in chasms and caves.
Ladders and winding steps lead down to pools of water and sandy strips between narrow rock walls reaching high into the sky.
There are only a couple of sandy beaches in Niue. The coral atoll, with jagged cliffs, is nicknamed The Rock. This is not an island for sun-bathing.
We put on our reef shoes and waded out into the water, squeezing masks and snorkels over our heads.
The underwater world came to life. Black and white sea snakes slithered around. Electric blue coloured fish zipped past and crabs scrambled in and out of holes in the rock walls.
Empty houses sit nestled in the greenery. Some have washing lines hung up inside. Some were abandoned after cyclone Heta struck in 2004. Others were left by Niueans looking for a better life in New Zealand.
When we wanted to explore inland we met up with Tony for a plantation tour. Tony grows more than 100 different types of taro. I didn’t know there was more than one.
‘‘Come, come,’’ he said, motioning us to follow him.
We traipsed through the plantation as he hacked at taro plants, coconuts, banana trees and paw paws with his machete, filling up a sack for us to take home.
Despite the bounty, the couple of supermarkets – if you can call them that – import and sell over-priced food. Shelves are stocked with corned beef, Coca-Cola, and bad cuts of meat. A bag of five oranges set me back $8.