Yesterday, I flew in from Norfolk Island via Auckland to visit Niue. Today, I'm up at 6 a.m. for my abortive whale trip. As it's still raining I resolve to track down the rental car man to repair my screeching wipers and then come back to catch up on sleep. Willie works out of his cafe in the main town, Alofi, fifteen minutes north. (I went here by mistake yesterday). Realise the map is ancient and the signposts are all out of date.
Finally, locate the Crazy Uga. (Uga is coconut crab - there’s even a designated road crossing for them, there are large numbers scuttling across at night). Willie is summonsed and fixes my wipers. He’s not sure how long I’m staying for, or what price he quoted, but we agree on 40 dollars a day and he tells me to pay when I feel like it. No paperwork, no license check, no credit card deposit. Discover I’m officially supposed to get a Niue driving licence, but the police station is closed for the weekend and I leave on Monday.
Decide I might as well have a look a little further up the coast while I’m out this way. Spend the next six hours pottering clockwise round the island. The local literature tells me that Niue is known as the Rock of the Pacific, because it sits atop 30 metre cliffs rising straight out of deep ocean. It is a typical Pacific island – a potholed road runs all round the coast. The road is edged with palm trees, dense low tropical vegetation and clusters of graves. Barking dogs chase the car whenever I drive through a village.
It’s not as neat as neighbouring Samoa; some of the houses are distinctly shabby, but the interest is definitely all by the sea. It seems that the whole coast is a mass of teeny waterfalls and cobalt pools, below the steep cliffs, the tide churning in and out of the coppery reef. And there are chasms (at least one a king’s bathing place), numerous caves and arches to explore. Not to mention the facsianting creations at the Hikulagi Sculpture Park-
Most of the sights are accessed down purpose built steps - some showing signs of wear, the way hewn out of the coral. I have to slide down algae covered rocks in unlit grottoes and wade out to sea, for the view of Aikaivai Cave. The tide is coming in, but it is just stunning. It is scooped out of the duskiest pink coral, complementing the deep turquoise of the pools superbly.
Right in the north of Niue, down a winding track is Matapa Chasm, a gorge, with crystal clear water, where kings, apparently, used to bathe. Adjacent, the path to the Niue signature tourist poster picture (see above), Talava Arches. This is an even more treacherous slippery assault course, over sharp and spiky coral; the final descent involves rope and very slimy rocks. Fortunately, I’m chaperoned by three young Kiwi ladies, Jo, Emma and Holly, who turn out to be outdoor instructors. Ideal for me, though I’m feeling they might have gone a little faster on their own. The reward is several interconnecting caverns, complete with stalactites and some very impressive arches forming windows of different shapes onto the reef. It’s a bit like Playschool. What can we see through the triangular window today children?
The rain hasn’t relented all day.
Tomorrow is Sunday. Monday is my last chance to swim with whales.
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