Off­shore

What Niue lacks in sandy beaches it makes up for with crys­tal clear la­goons.

Good - - CONTENTS - Words and pho­tog­ra­phy Carolyn Ent­ing

Why Niue is the Pa­cific’s best kept se­cret

One of the best things about the is­land of Niue is that it doesn’t have sandy beaches.

That fact alone has kept the hordes away from this mag­i­cal is­land. In 2016 Niue had 11,000 vis­i­tors com­pared to neigh­bour Raro­tonga’s 146,473. Known as The Rock of Poly­ne­sia, Niue is one of the world’s largest coral atolls, boast­ing a mul­ti­tude of dreamy pools ac­cessed by paths through lush trop­i­cal jun­gle. It’s the kind of place where you ex­pect to stum­ble upon Won­der Woman hav­ing a swim, though of course Ni­ueans, not Ama­zons, are the proud peo­ple of this “par­adise is­land”.

If, hy­po­thet­i­cally, Won­der Woman did want to jet in on her in­vis­i­ble plane, she wouldn’t have to worry about a land­ing queue. Cur­rently there are only two flights a week to Niue (Air New Zealand ex-Auck­land), which is per­haps the rea­son why the at­mos­phere at the air­port is so fes­tive and wel­com­ing.

On ar­rival the warmth of the trop­ics im­me­di­ately en­velops you. Thank good­ness the Scenic Matavai Re­sort, a 10-minute drive from the air­port, has a pool. This re­sort sits high on the cliffs over­look­ing the ocean. The reef drops off quickly into deep water here, which is won­der­ful for watch­ing ma­rine life – ev­ery morn­ing of our five-day, four-night stay we see a pod of spin­ner dol­phins play­ing their ver­sion of twister. Dur­ing the whale-watch­ing sea­son (July to Oc­to­ber) hump­backs join the fray. Each year around 50 adults and their off­spring en­ter Niue’s wa­ters as they mi­grate north from Antarc­tica into warmer wa­ters to breed and so­cialise.

In Oc­to­ber 2017 the Niue Gov­ern­ment an­nounced the for­ma­tion of a Ma­rine Pro­tected Area (MPA) cov­er­ing 40 per cent of the is­land’s Ex­clu­sive Eco­nomic Zone (EEZ), which means lock­ing up a pro­por­tion of its fish­ing re­source for con­ser­va­tion and pro­tect­ing grey reef sharks. Once es­tab­lished, the new ma­rine pro­tected area will be the 28th largest in the world.

The mag­nif­i­cent ma­rine life is one of Niue’s big­gest at­trac­tions. We booked a trip with Buc­ca­neer Ad­ven­tures ( ni­ue­dive.com) to one of the is­land’s best snorkel spots, known lo­cally as both the Coral Gar­dens and Snake Al­ley. These stun­ning gar­dens are home

“It’s the kind of place where you ex­pect to stum­ble upon Won­der Woman hav­ing a swim...”

to trop­i­cal fish, im­pres­sive corals and sea snakes ( kat­u­ali). Once you get your head around “snakes in the water”, see­ing one sur­face for air be­side you be­fore glid­ing off is a quite a thrill.

The magic of Niue, if you are a water baby like me, is its plethora of nat­u­ral swim­ming pools. There’s even one at the base of the cliffs at Scenic Matavai Re­sort that you can ac­cess at low tide (reef shoes are a must for reef walk­ing and pool hop­ping).

To make the most of our time on the is­land we hired lo­cal guides ( ni­ue­tours.com) to drive us to all the best spots. You can also hire a car or mo­tor­bike on the is­land but you need to ar­range a Niue driver’s li­cense. The ad­van­tage of Niue Tours is they know the tides well and time vis­its to the dif­fer­ent pools ac­cord­ingly.

The Limu Pools at Na­mukulu are per­haps the most fa­mous. The water, like ev­ery­where in Niue, is crys­tal clear. Snorkelling at mid-tide is best, es­pe­cially if, like me, you want to swim through the arch in the sec­ond pool. Be wary of pos­si­ble surges through the arch­way, es­pe­cially on in­com­ing tides. Flip­pers are rec­om­mended.

An­other favourite swim­ming spot with the lo­cals is Avaiki Cave, Makefu – an im­pres­sive water-filled cathe­dral cave that you can swim and snorkel in (only ac­ces­si­ble at low tide). Lit­er­ally kick back, on your back, and en­joy the view of the ocean framed by the mouth of this ex­pan­sive cave.

The short walk to get down to Avaiki Cave and swim­ming spot passes through a sun­lit cave. The reef fans out from the front of the cave, its rock pools team­ing with ocean trea­sures mak­ing it a great place for reef walk­ing at low tide.

My favourite pool, how­ever, was Mat­apa Chasm which is safe to swim and snorkel at any tide. This beau­ti­ful deep pool is framed by high cliffs and fed by fresh as well as sea water. It used to be re­served as the bathing place for Niue roy­alty. It’s reached by a forested track at the foot of Hiku­tavake Hill be­side the start of the track to Talava Arches (a his­tor­i­cal look-out point).

We ran out of time to walk to the Arches but we did make it to Togo Chasm. This 20-minute walk takes you through an an­cient rain­for­est be­fore alight­ing to an ex­pan­sive and breath­tak­ing view of the path weav­ing down­hill to­wards the ocean through an oth­er­worldly for­est of fos­silised coral pin­na­cles. The path leads to the Togo Chasm, a sur­real oa­sis of land-locked palm trees reached by climb­ing down a wooden lad­der.

All this hik­ing and swim­ming cer­tainly whets the ap­petite. The Dol­phin Restau­rant & Bar at Scenic Matavai Re­sort serves up great fare with an ocean view, and reg­u­lar cul­tural per­for­mances. Its phi­los­o­phy is to source pro­duce from Niue Is­land through lo­cal fish­er­men, vil­lage mar­kets and hy­dro­ponic farms (we ate hy­dro­ponic toma­toes grown by for­mer Wellington Mayor Mark Blum­sky who now lives on the is­land). Nearby Wash­away Café (only open on Sun­days) is a pop­u­lar seafront spot at Avatele Beach. This rus­tic and re­laxed café sticks to the ba­sics – fish and chips, burg­ers and fries, and has an hon­esty bar. You help your­self to drinks, write what you had in a book, and set­tle the bill at the end.

The main town of Alofi is tiny (the is­land pop­u­la­tion sits around 1300) but has a cou­ple of stores and restau­rants in­clud­ing Kai Ika that serves the un­usual com­bi­na­tion of Ja­panese food and pizza. We opted for Ja­panese which was sen­sa­tional (af­ter all, Niue is a great place for fresh sushi).

Re­turn­ing to my stu­dio apart­ment at Scenic Matavai Re­sort I soak up the soli­tude, sit­ting in the shade on the pri­vate bal­cony with an out­look of lush fo­liage, palm trees and blue water, lulled by the sound of the ocean. Each day I spend an hour here read­ing a book with­out phone calls, emails, Face­book or In­sta­gram. There is no mo­bile cov­er­age here and free wi-fi for just one hour a day. Bliss, and the ul­ti­mate dig­i­tal detox. Hol­i­day­ing here re­ally is a hol­i­day, and it’s only a three-and-a-half-hour-flight away.

Best view Above, Scenic Matavai Re­sort sits high on the cliffs over­look­ing the ocean. Be­low, Buc­can­neer Ad­ven­tures run snorkelling and dol­phin watch­ing trips.

You can swim and snorkel in Avaiki Cave at low tide.

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