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.

Kapi-Mana News - - TRAVEL -

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.

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