Archive for 'Niue'


Niue has been a very memorable stop. Friday’s scuba dives into the caves were incredible. Dallas, Leo, and I were picked up by the local dive guide, Ian, around 8 a.m. and taken on a 20 minute dinghy ride to the site of our first dive at Limu Twin Caves. This involved a 90′ descent into a large cavern followed by a couple of narrow swim-throughs that first ascended out from the cavern and then descended into deep chasms within the colorful limestone. Along the way, we saw lion fish with porcupine-type spines, two really big banded shrimp, large blue puffer fish, two varieties of black and white striped sea snakes, and unusual spotted fish and sea cucumbers that we’d never seen before. We then spent about an hour chatting and motoring to the site of the second dive, a shallow plunge into Bubble Cave. This one was in fact a cave, as there was no ambient light, so we used flashlights to look around. Once inside, it was possible to ascend to the surface of the water, but since the cave is enclosed, the air inside was musty, misty, and pressurized, so it was necessary to equalize (i.e., hold your nose and blow out your ears) while on the surface. The cave itself was incredible with its stalactites/stalagmites (not sure which is which) and mixture of pastel colors. Water has eroded the jagged edges of the rock into smooth, curved surfaces, so smooth that it appeared as though the many of the rocks had been iced like a birthday cake. 

Ian informed us that this is where the amphibious sea cretes (the small variety of snake) go to lay their eggs, and during hatching season (which unfortunately had passed), the baby snakes fall off of the rock ledges above and onto the divers’ heads! As he said, "Real Indiana Jones sort of stuff." In fact, we saw several of the snakes lying on the rocks inside the cave, but alas, none fell on our heads! In case you are wondering, Ian also informed us that although the larger variety of snake is venomous (not the one found in the caves), they are not at all aggressive, and it would be necessary to hold open their mouths, stick your hand in, and clamp down on their jaw to get bit. So that was comforting.

Also reassuring was watching a 3-4′ white-tipped shark rise from its resting place on the bottom and quickly swim away at the sight of our dive guide. Ian wasn’t a very menacing looking character, so I think it’s true that the white-tipped sharks are more afraid of us than we are of them.  

When we returned to the boat, we thought we’d take advantage of already being suited up and finish cleaning the bottom of the boat. It wasn’t nearly as challenging as it had been in the Tuamotus (i.e., green shag carpet had not yet formed), but we were still surprised at the amount of growth, especially since our friend Paul on S/V Disa hasn’t cleaned his bottom since it was first painted back when ours was, and he has no growth at all. More evidence that you get what you pay for in terms of bottom paint. While cleaning, Dallas and I have had a chance to watch out for interesting marine life. Our best sighting was a spotted eagle ray, which apparently are rare. Instead of having eyes in the back of its head like the other rays we have seen, this one had a head that protruded from its diamond-shaped body. Dallas also saw a large squid.

Dallas and I took it easy on the boat on Saturday, while Wes and Tiff spent a second day checking out the caves and the island via motorcycle. They took several great photos along the way; here are just a few.

DSC_0019 Tiffany (and her machete) put Niue on notice that Texas is in town!

DSC_0034A gorgeous day in Niue

DSC_0306Getting cooled off at Anapala CaveDSC_0345Fresh and saltwater combine at Matapa Chasm 

That night we met up with our friends from S/V Disa as well as the crew of S/V Marionette (we met in Panama), who was believed to be missing for over a week. As they do not have a sat phone or other means of communication at sea, they did not contact anyone after the tsunami. Their parents’ phone calls to the foreign ministry department of Sweden simply to inquire about the potential effects of the tsumani where their boat was supposed to be somehow led to a huge story in the Swedish media, who went so far as to say that they had been caught in the tsunami (despite that they were no where near it)! Needless to say, the crew was very surprised to find out that they were being actively sought out by police in various countries throughout the South Pacific and are national celebrities back home!

After we all got caught up, we ventured out to the local rugby club where they have a disco on Saturday nights. There were about 40 young locals there, and many of them danced to the exclusively Polynesian dance music (no American top 40 for a change!). We had a really good time, although some of the single guys in our group were disappointed to find that the male to female ratio in Niue was not in their favor. There were only two girls on the dance floor (besides me) surrounded by a room full of guys.

Yesterday Dallas and I used our own scuba equipment to join up with three other cruisers for another cave dive. The outboard motor of our dinghy still needs to be repaired, but fortunately theirs were powerful enough to get the 5 of us plus our gear out to the mooring buoys of the dive company (which, like most businesses on the island, does not operate on Sundays). It turned out that the regulator we loaned out was leaking, so Dallas volunteered to use it and only dive the first site, the Chimney. It was essentially a descent into a small cave inhabited by several large painted lobsters followed by a swim down to about 90′ where there is an eroded truck that apparently got swept off the island during the cyclone that struck in January of 2004. The dive itself was a good one, but our enjoyment of it was affected by the fact that one of the cruisers did not have enough weight in his BCD and had to be held down in order to keep him from rising to the surface. In between dives, Dallas passed him more weight, and the problem was resolved. I went with the others to check out Bubble Cave again while Dallas practiced his free-diving sans scuba gear. The cave was spectacular once again, and this time we turned off our flashlights and could see just a bit of blue ambient light shining through from above.

Today we have the usual tasks to complete (clear out with customs, fill water, provision) in preparation for the two-day passage to Tonga. It looks like the wind may be variable tonight but should ease into 10-20 knots from the southeast by tomorrow, so we should make reasonable time.

Catching up and adding on

We continue with our trend of liking each place just a little more than the last. Niue is awesome thanks to the people (both locals and cruisers) and the unique natural habitat. The limestone and coral that comprise the island produce very little “run-off”; evidently this is why the water is so amazingly clear. Dallas and I have found reasons to jump in every day since we’ve been here..

Paul from S/V Disa and his two new crew members arrived here on Monday night, and it has been great to catch up with him. We heard him hailing Niue Radio on VHF 16 as he approached (as all boats are required to do here for some reason) and were quite excited to hear his voice. That night his brother whipped up a fantastic dinner aboard their boat, and we heard all about their adventures including their trip to Palmerston. Apparently they had the misfortune of being “adopted” by the mayor of Palmerston who displayed poor table manners and encouraged them to share their liquor with him and him alone. If nothing else, visiting Palmerston seems to guarantee a good story or two.


Disa picking up the mooring next to us

 We spent much of Tuesday on the internet, in large part trying to learn more about New Zealand marinas and make a decision about where to spend the cyclone season. Several marinas no longer have catamaran berths available, but of those that do, we selected Tauranga Bay Marina due to its proximity to various places of interest such as Auckland, Bay of Plenty and its nice beaches, several restaurants/bars, marine services, etc. Plus it’s a little easier to get the boat out to nice cruising grounds than it would be in Whangarei where most cruisers go.

Tuesday night we attended a potluck BBQ at the Yacht Club. It was interesting to see the selection of foods, a few of which revealed the limitations of cruisers’ supplies (e.g., salads and casseroles made from canned veggies, lentils, and ramen noodles). After dinner, Bruce from S/V Migration showed Casablanca, a classic. Dallas and I had both seen it before but found it interesting to watch with a group that included both French and Germans.

Wednesday was a full day. We joined up with S/V Disa to rent a car and explore the caves along the northern coast of the island. Dallas was the designated driver and had to get a Niue driver’s license for $8. He thought it funny that the policeman didn’t know how to work the license-making machine, so he gave him a receipt in order to demonstrate his driving credentials. He did well with driving on the left side of the road, although he frequently turned on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal (which was on the right), and made one wrong turn into the right lane, just in front of the police station. Just in case he wasn’t challenged enough by the experience of driving on the other side, he had to contend with chickens crossing the road (to get to the other side) as well as a seemingly random quarry placed in the middle of the main road. At least there wasn’t much traffic!

The caves were pretty spectacular. Each one consisted of beige and red-orange limestone that has been eroded by water over the years into intricate formations and stalactites/stalagmites. Some required only a bit of climbing down a trail to the opening of the large cavern, while others required longer hikes or offered fresh- or salt-water pools in which to snorkel. For example, Matapa Chasm was a freshwater pool located in between two very steep limestone cliffs. According to legend, it is where the kings used to bathe. Since we had the rental car until noon today, we decided to get up early this morning to check out one last cave on the other side of the island. We selected Vaikona after hearing other cruisers talk about it. By the time we finally found it, time was limited, and somehow I got talked into jogging down the rocky trail to the cave. Fortunately there were no injuries minus a few minor bumps and scrapes, and we managed to get to the cave, climb down into its mouth and traverse the rocks to the pool, have a short dip in the cool water, and get back to the car in an hour and a half. Exhausting, but well worth the effort.


Exploring Palaha Cave


Quite a view from Talava Arches



Taking a break, island-style


The water was refreshing at Limu

 After all of that, the guys from S/V Disa were still up for scuba diving this afternoon (as were we, of course). All three were inexperienced divers to various degrees, but each was able to have an enjoyable dive of the reef below the boat at their own speed. It was fun to see their pleased expressions when they were done. Tomorrow we will go with the local dive pros on a cave dive!  


Paul enjoyed his second-ever scuba dive


Moonlight over Niue

Unlike the passage to Beveridge Reef, we had more than enough wind en route to Niue. Fortunately, both the wind and the large (up to 10′) waves were from astern, so the motion was not bad at all, and we averaged about 5 knots using the spinnaker or jib depending on the intensity of the wind.

DSC_0833Grey skies but plenty of wind

At approximately 1,500 current inhabitants, Niue is the smallest country that I can think of except for the Vatican. I read that the population was over 5,000 in its heyday, but the majority of the population has chosen to take advantage of their New Zealand citizenship. Those who remain mostly work for the government, and there is also a small tourism industry created by cruisers and New Zealanders on holiday for whom the selling feature is probably the humpback whales who migrate through here, primarily in August and September. Although we are at the tail end (no pun intended) of the season, we were hoping there would be some stragglers.

Niue is a coral island of very low elevation. From a distance, it’s not very photogenic, but as we approached, we could see limestone caves spotting the coastline, giving it a more rugged look. Then as the water became more shallow, we were really impressed by the clarity of the water. Would you believe that in 100′ of water we could still see the sandy bottom?

DSC_0864 Niue from a distance

We arrived in Niue on Sunday afternoon and were welcomed via VHF radio by our friends aboard S/V Migration and S/V Anima. Apparently the yachties aboard all but one of the 10 boats moored in the bay joined Bruce aboard Migration to celebrate his 50th birthday the night before, so this must be a fun group. As it was Sunday, we were not able to check in with customs/immigration and go ashore (they are particularly strict about it here), but that was fine with me. I couldn’t wait to jump in the crystal clear water.

First things first, though. We put up the wi-fi antenna and were able to get online and check email. Wow! In case we had any doubt that we were loved… We are just sorry that we didn’t find out about the tsumani soon enough to prevent you guys from worrying for an entire day.

Dallas and I pulled ourselves away from the computer and donned our wetsuits and weights so we could practice the free-diving techniques learned in Beveridge. We were pretty pleased with ourselves after touching the bottom in 20-25′ of water. We then snorkeled around the reef and had another close encounter with a full-grown (probably 4′ this time) white-tipped shark. Dallas’ encounter was a little closer than mine, since I was using him as a human shield! Mr. Shark had no interest in us, though, and was gone as quickly as he came. We swam around a bit more and saw a sea snake that I’ve never seen before. It was a few feet long but only about an inch thick and had black and white stripes. We also saw some grouper at the bottom that could be turned into dinner, but we need to find out which fish do/do not have ciguatera first.

DSC_0911 The clear water is ideal for snorkeling

Martin and Wolfgang from S/V Anima stopped by in the afternoon and dropped off a loaf of fresh bread, knowing that we couldn’t go ashore. They told us all about their caving expedition the day before, which sounds like a must-do-while-in-Niue kind of thing.

We had two spectacular sights before the day was through. One was the moon rising over the bay, magnificently full and bright. The other was the unbelievable sight of two humpback whales right next to our boat!! We were just sitting in the salon having dinner when all of the sudden, we heard the unmistakable sound of air being expended through a blowhole. Tiff and I simultaneously gasped, and we all ran out into the cockpit where we saw the mother and her calf. In the bright moonlight and clear water, we could see the calf lying upside-down, showing off his white belly. I was really pumped up and shouting to the other boats, "Whale, whale!" I guess Dallas was excited, too, as he tried calling S/V Anima to let them know the whales were headed their way but pressed the wrong button on the VHF. We are hoping that we will get to see them again in daylight and get some pictures or even go for a swim with them, as some cruisers were able to do a week ago.

This morning we were boarded by the customs, quarantine, and health officers. They were very nice and asked the usual questions. It is surprising to me, though, that the only places that we have been boarded are here and tiny Swan Island, not exactly prime spots for unloading smuggled goods. Anyway, once that was said and done, Dallas and I took the dinghy ashore using the crane hoist set up for dinghies by the Niue Yacht Club, who also take care of the moorings, provide a meeting place for cruisers, have internet, and serve several varieties of ice cream (2 of which we’ve already had!).

DSC_0910 Operating the dinghy hoist

DSC_0897View of the mooring field from town

Before we head back to the boat, we will make a much-needed stop at the local grocery store. I’ve been buying mostly staples and fresh produce so far here in the Pacific, but the provisions are dwindling to the point that we might need to shell out a bit more and replenish the pantry. Fortunately the prices seem to be gradually decreasing as we near New Zealand (e.g., only $5 for a box of cereal here instead of $7 in French Polynesia).