Friday - No Underwater Camera
Arrive to visit Niue, from Norfolk Island, flying with the rain. Pockets of hardy tourists, mainly Kiwis are out walking and diving, but considerably larger numbers are huddled in the cafes in the main town, Alofi. And I discover I have brought the wrong underwater camera. This one doesn’t work and I've left my lovely Olympus Tough at home. And I’m booked to swim with whales tomorrow. Niue is famous for being one of the few places in the world where you can do this. Eventually, I persuade a diving company in a hut down the road form my hotel to rent me one. Initially, they say I can only borrow one if I go out with their boat, but then they relent. At a price.
Saturday - No Whale Tour in Niue
A very early start, so I can’t sleep, what with massive jet lag now - 12 hours behind - and concern at having to be ready at six a.m for my trip with the whales. It’s rained all night. Go pick up my rental camera. Find the correct dive shop some five miles up the coast with some difficulty. Tour is cancelled because of the bad weather. It won't be fun, they say and there is little chance of encountering the whales. Rami, the boatman, says that the whales are elusive this year. They are six weeks late in arriving from the Antarctic and there have only been a few spotted so far.
The first dive shop is still venturing, out, but it seems they didn’t ever have a swimming spot available, just a watching slot (only six swimmers at a time are allowed near the whales). Ask for a refund.
Sunday - So, No Whale Tour in Niue
Today, I can see patches of blue sky out of my window. And there is a hump backed whale blowing and cavorting with some spinner dolphins, just off the reef.
I’ve made the mistake of trying to boil eggs for my breakfast. I discovered the absence of a saucepan too late. Things are not going well in the shallow frying pan - I don’t have any oil either. I could be here all day.. ....
It is Sunday and everyone on South Pacific islands goes to church and relaxes on Sunday. (The ladies are wearing their special hats). All the shops in Niue are shut (I’m not convinced they were open yesterday) and no boating is allowed. Even the dogs are taking it easy.
Willie's Washaway Café
The place to be seen today is Willie’s Sundays only Washaway Café down on Avotele Beach. The island’s biggest smiliest entrepreneur is busy setting it up when I arrive – he just leaves the fish, salad and burgers out and relies on people to pay for what they take and write it into the book - prices on the wall. I venture into the water in the shallow bay here. It’s chilly, but incredibly clear and the coral and reef fish epitomises vivid. It looks as if someone’s ratcheted up the brightness filter on the television. There’s a really nasty current if you swim to the wrong side of the break in the reef though, and I beat a hasty retreat.
. I decamp to safer waters up at Limu Pools, with Kiwis Julie and Marion. Here there are natural swimming pools, again one with an arch, and a few iridescent fish tootling around. I swim in the biggest lagoon and scramble around the various viewpoints admiring the scenery.
The azure skies have tantalisingly come and gone several times. The whale has been taunting everyone, motoring up and down the coast, groups gathering to look out to sea, timing the gaps between his dives to try and predict his next appearance. And it hasn’t rained once
Monday - Trying to Swim with Whales in Niue
I’m making a last attempt to swim with the whales in Niue. It’s pushing things timewise, as my plane leaves at 2.30. We go in pursuit of yesterday’s sightings, but to no avail. I have to confess to being slightly relieved after Rami has warned us about not provoking mothers with calves, told us not to scream and instructed us to tear back to the boat pell-mell if they start to breach. ‘You don’t want one to fall on you’. However, there is snorkelling outside the reef. There are caves and channels dotting its length, and we weave in and out of one in single file. The water is still quite choppy. Turtles meander gracefully past and there are clusters of banded sea snakes. These are unique to Niue, very poisonous, but not remotely aggressive. (I’m told). They drift aimlessly past.
Dolphins to the Rescue!
The bays are teeming with dolphins and we get to swim with them instead. You jump in and grip a rope tow at the prow of the boat. It’s one of those unforgettable experiences – 30 dolphins jumping and diving effortlessly around me in the clear blue water. They are definitely inviting us to join in, peeling off and returning, though it's not very easy to take photos with one hand.
Now, I have to race to the airport for my flight to Melbourne.