Niue. Ahhh…

261 square kilometres. 20km long x 16km wide. 1600 inhabitants. Blink and you’d miss it…

We had a horrible 1050 mile sail here, with both of us awake for most of the last 27 hours. The wind strength fluctuated from 9 to 23 knots, and did so with monotonous irregularity so we did the Hokey Cokey with the sails (in, out, in, out, shake it all about…). With the wind strength fluctuation came wave heights from about 1m to about 4m, with little warning. Just to make life even more difficult, the wind direction wasn’t stable and veered and backed through about 35 degrees constantly. All in all, uncomfortable. We both took turns to doze, but neither of us got proper sleep. We were delighted to be able to pick up a mooring ball in Alofi Bay on the west coast of Niue, but we were also primed for extremely formal immigration procedures. The pilot book we read said that we should expect fumigation for the rhinoceros beetle and that customs and immigration would come out to our boat and that we should absolutely not go ashore until this had happened.

Once we’d tied up, I called Niue Radio on Ch16 and asked very politely about immigration. On the way, we had lost the ability to turn the engine off – a screw had rattled loose and so the only way to stop the engine was to use a torch and a big screwdriver, carefully positioned and manoeuvred in the middle of the workings of the engine to stop the diesel supply. Dietmar was keen to fix this before we went ashore for immigration, and I was keen to clear in so I could get off the boat for a while. Between us we unpacked the flat-packed dinghy and inflated it. I spoke to a lovely sounding lady on CH16 who advised me that we should wait on board as the customs officials had gone to the airport. We waited. Then the same lady (“Niue Radio”) called to say we should come in now. Dietmar finished what he was doing on the engine and carried the outboard to the dinghy and we launched it from the boat.

There is no dinghy dock in Alofi Bay. There is a rough concrete wall with some steps and an electric crane to lift your dinghy out of the water. You have to line your dinghy up so that you can attach the crane hook to your three-point bridle, and then get off the boat to operate the crane and lift the dinghy 15’ out of the water. This is probably really easy when there is no swell. There was about 2’ of swell…

 

Eventually we got ashore and looked for the customs officials. It was all a bit stressful as we were expecting to be chastised for not being in the right place at the right time. We called the lady on Niue Radio again on Ch16 who told me that the customs officials had gone back to the airport but would be back at some point. In the meantime, we should wait in the shelter just up from the wharf. There was no one around. We waited. And we waited. And we waited. It was hot but windy. Some dogs came to check us out. The only vehicle on the wharf was an ancient, graffitied, Japanese saloon sprayed with the words “For Sale.” Our VHF radio was silent. Dietmar started to have a major sense of humour failure. I just wanted to check in and then maybe get some sleep. I called Niue Radio again and the lady said that she was trying to get in touch with the Customs officials but had no answer. She didn’t know how long they would be. She would try to find out whether we could wait somewhere else.

Another twenty minutes of waiting and radio silence and we were both pretty fed up. We walked up the hill to see what we could find – and found the Customs Warehouse. A really friendly guy working in there said that he thought it would be perfectly ok for us to go up to the ‘Commercial Centre’ to wait if we wanted to. He said to relax, not to worry, and we would just blend in. We had no idea what to expect. Anxious because we had no NZ dollars, hadn’t checked in, thought we would be in trouble…but fed up with waiting around the deserted wharf area, we wandered up the hill. Our first encounter was with Dave in the Bond Store. He couldn’t have been friendlier. We got cash from him – we bought on a card all the money he had in the till. Then we went next door for a ‘slushie’ – Brits would know this as a glorified Slush Puppie with extra fruit in. Ice is very exciting when you have no ability to make it or keep it on board! Dietmar was already in seventh heaven and had cheered up no end.

We wandered around the tiny outdoor shopping mall and then got a call on the VHF that the customs officials were on their way back and that we could meet them in the Customs Warehouse. Before we walked back we stopped in to Telecom Niue to find out about wifi and the mobile phone network (we had heard that there was in fact no phone network but this is not the case) and found that the lady working in Telecom Niue was also the Radio Niue lady on Ch16. Ditsy but really lovely.

Eventually we met with the man from Customs. Tall, strapping, maybe late twenties, he invited us into his ‘office’ with a wry grin. The Customs Warehouse is exactly that and had very little in it. There was construction work going on inside and so everything was covered in a fine layer of sawdust. He was efficient but super laid back and we quickly completed the forms, leaning on a makeshift trestle table. He then gave us a lift (!) up to the tourist information centre before it shut. Where else but Niue…?!

The ladies in the Tourist Information Centre didn’t seem at all perturbed by us keeping them open a bit late, even though it was a Friday, and they were really helpful. We then wandered on to find the Niue Yacht Club and were met by the lovely Lexy (Alexa) who explained how things work – you write your drinks in the book, and then you settle up for your booze and your mooring before you sail away…

On the way back to the boat we smelled cooking meat and stopped to investigate. At the back of the market, a man was making the most fantastic looking burgers. We lingered and were invited in by some of the people waiting for their orders. We ordered a burger and found ourselves sitting chatting to some local people; the woman who owns the only petrol station on the island, her children, the hairdresser. Half an hour later we had an amazing burger in our hands, a handful of recommendations for places to go and people to see, and I had an appointment at the hairdresser for the following Wednesday. Lovely.

 

Since we arrived, we have been absolutely amazed by the super-friendliness of everyone we have met. In so many ways this is the most extraordinary place. It’s a massive block of coral which was pushed up to the surface of the ocean by tectonic/volcanic activity several million years ago. It doesn’t have the spectacular peaks or the fringing reefs of the other Pacific islands. The shoreline is rocky and unprotected but the water is so clear – the visibility is up to 100 metres in some places. Captain Cook sighted the island in 1774 and tried to land in 3 different places. He tried to land in three places, was absolutely not met with friendliness but managed to get ashore for long enough to raise a flag, claim the island for his British Majesty and then sail away quickly before any more spears sailed past his head. He named Niue ‘Savage Island;’ the name was perhaps partly responsible for the lack of European contact (aside from maybe some whaling boats) for more than half a century before the London Missionary Society, buoyed by success in the neighbouring Cook Islands, landed in 1830 with missionaries from Aitutaki. The rest of the history of Niue seems to be part fact, part myth, and rich in glorious detail, some of which (eg involving journeys in whales to neighbouring islands) is more difficult for westerners to get their heads around.

Niue has had a mobile phone network for only about 6 years. Even now, you don’t see people stuck to their mobile phones the way you do in other countries. People talk to each other, they smile and laugh, and they are mostly so kind and friendly (apart from Mr Grumpy up at the Sails Bar but he is a glaring exception to the rule).

We’ve met some lovely people (hello Alan, Jackie, Lexy, the crews of SY Duende, Outer Rim, Emma Louise,  Tin Tin, among others…) and seen some amazing things on Niue. The island is geologically really unusual, with beautiful walks down to the reef, stunning arches and caves with stalactites and stalagmites, just a 10 minute walk from the road. The soil is apparently pretty poor but the countryside is very green. Coconut crabs toddle lazily across the road at night – this was exciting when we drove down to the Washaway Café (only open on a Sunday) in the dark. There are graves scattered along the roadside. There are derelict houses everywhere as the land and the property on it all belong to families and not to individuals. As a result, when the old people die, houses are often not renovated but left to deteriorate and new ones are built elsewhere. There are apparently over 20,000 Niueans living in New Zealand.

 

Sightseeing aside, life on board continues as usual. We are probably going to set sail for Fiji on Thursday so in the meantime there are some housekeeping jobs to do, plus we have to get some more fuel (this means jerry cans to shore in the dinghy, walk to the gas station, fill up, return to the dinghy…), do some shopping and do the washing.

Today, I was on a mission to get the washing done while Dietmar is scuba diving. A little jaded from a late night on Tin Tin last night (when Sundowners turn into supper and you go home at 2am…), I planned to get the washing sorted out and then make myself comfortable at the Niue Yacht Club and wait for him. I schlepped my three bags of washing up the road to where Hina’s Laundromat should be, according to the map. Hina’s Laundromat is in fact someone’s (Hina’s, presumably) house behind the bright yellow Swanson’s Supermarket. It took me a while to raise anyone but eventually a middle-aged man in a small towel appeared in the lean-to at the back and told me that the lady who usually does the washing was at the airport today and selling her stuff and that she would be back later but then she was going straight to the funeral. She might be able to do the washing overnight and probably get it ready for some time tomorrow. No, I couldn’t use the machines myself. No, he couldn’t operate the machines. For $30NZ I could have the washing washed and dried but they don’t really do folding. No, there is nowhere else on the island where I could get washing done. Oh for goodness’ sake…

I radioed the Yacht Club and got the Commodore; yes, there is a washing machine at the Yacht Club – technically the Backpackers’ Hostel – and if I asked Alexa nicely she might allow me to use it. I excused myself from the gentleman in the towel and set off along the road with my three bags of washing to the Yacht Club, hopeful that Alexa might take pity on me. On the way, a lady pulled up in her car and offered me a lift to wherever I was going. I thanked her but declined as I was pretty close already. Alexa, as I hoped, did indeed take pity on me, so here I am, in the Yacht Club, typing this blog post, waiting for my washing to dry and waiting for my intrepid boyfriend to come back from cave and chimney diving…

One thought on “Niue. Ahhh…

  • June 23, 2017 at 6:59 am
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    Oooh Emma, so nice to read your blog!

    Reply

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