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Niue Caves & Pools

For breakfast we sampled sausages. Since we left Grenada we’ve not seen a decent pork sausage until here. A couple of days ago we bought a couple of packets but have yet to try them. I was keen to find out if they were ok or not so I fried a few up for breakfast. They weren’t the very best but they turned out pretty good and low in fat which was even better.

Overnight there had been a lot of rain and we did wonder if it would be ok to press on with our touring of the island. Realizing the weather was quite changeable we went ashore and gambled on the weather improving as it did the day before.

Our first stop was to drop off our disk drive with one of the chaps we met the day before who worked in one of the stores. He turned out to have a few movies that we didn’t have and we certainly had a few he didn’t so we’d agreed to a swap. He’d even bought a brand new external disk drive to contain what we were bringing. Next we headed down the road to drop off our empty propane tank for a fill. Then we were off touring.

Our first stop was Palaha Cave. It was a short walk from the road before we reached the cave entrance. It looked reasonably impressive but not overwhelming at first. We did see that the cave bent around to the right so we figured we may as well scramble down and take a look. What a sight that presented itself to us. The small beginning opened up into a grand cave with amazing formations of stalagmites, tites and pillars. The other end of the cave was open to the sea.

In many places in the world with higher tourist volumes a cave such as this, if it was accessible at all, would be overlaid with walkways and barriers to keep visitors away from the soft rocks. Presumable due to the low volume of tourists coming to Niue (one flight per week + yachties) we are allowed to walk around and explore unhindered. This makes caves like this a lot of fun and very interesting.

Our next stop was for a swim in Matapa Chasm further up the coast. The chasm leads almost directly out to the sea. It is fed with fresh water that mixes with the sea water. We had brought our facemasks so we could swim and look around. The fresh water entering the chasm was a little chilly. Interestingly the salt water beneath was warmer so we had the odd effect of getting warmer when we dove down. Also, the mixing of the salt and fresh water created a blurred effect when looking through our masks. Diving below into the warm water got below this mixed layer showing the water to be crystal clear.

Without having to move the car our next stop was Talava Arches. This was a bit of a hike over a rough coral path. After our experience from the previous day we decided to wear proper shoes. After about 20 minutes we came to a small entrance in a rock face. It felt a bit like one of those books/movies where one goes through a small cave into a different world. Like the previous cave we were presented with lots of colourful erosion and deposition formations. The initial cave opened into an oasis of vegetation and grandness. Facing the sea there were several large arches. Inland we had cliffs with additional caves to explore. With the tide near its full ebb a large plateau of rock had surfaced upon which we could walk. At one end of this area was a pool with a striking blue colour.

After we’d explored this area we returned to the car. My feet, unused to shoes, were now blistering so as soon as I could I switch my shoes for my flip flops. Back at the car we stopped off at a small bar for some refreshing fruit juice before moving on.

Our next stop was Avaiki Cave near to our first stop. This was another short walk and again a walk through cave. This time the highlight was an amazing still blue pool inside and underneath a large overhang. Here there were many more deposition formations formed by countless years of water dripping through the rocks overhead. There was a hard to find passage that led us round to a balcony over the pool giving us a great look down and around.

By now we were hot, exhausted and ready for another swim. Our next stop was the pools at Limu. Here we met the Mariposas. These are outdoor natural pools with caves and arches into which one can swim. Like before, they were a mixture of fresh and salt water. Unlike before there waters were calm enough to allow the layers to settle in places giving a very unique visual experience. We started at the upper pools which were quite deep in places. Helen didn’t stay too long in the pool after she learned there were snakes in the water. Ben and I had a refreshing swim here. We returned to the lower pools where we’d met Terry and Andrew and swam there too. Being shallower they didn’t seem to be a good habitat for the snakes which allowed Helen to spend more time here.

We’d been promising ourselves Fish and Chips all day so it was now back to Alofi for a late lunch. Fortunately they had some left and soon we were tucking in. There is no cod down here so the fish they use turns out to be yellow fin tuna. All very delicious.

We next checked in on John with our disk drive. He was part of the way through copying and needed a lot more time so we agreed to leave our drive with him for the evening. Next door, in the computer shop, we bumped into John and Jennifer from Ile de Grace who were troubleshooting separate connection issues with each of their laptops. Having figured out similar on our setup I was able to fix both in short time. It’s good to still feel useful from time to time.

We next picked up our propane on the way to the dive operator which ended up being further away than we remembered. We wanted to talk to them about what we could possibly do. The lady there was only able to take our names as possible for Friday or Saturday. There is a dive called snake gully which Ben and I are interested in. Helen is not.

Our last stop was Sails Bar north of town where we relaxed with a couple of beers looking out over the sea hoping to catch sight of whales. The weather closed in and started to rain after a day of pleasant weather. We’d been lucky. They had their own sausage sizzle that night but we decided not to stay as we were tired and still full of fish and chips. We made our way back to the boat and chilled out the evening.

We’ve decided to keep the car one more day as there are still some places to visit on this unique island that we don’t want to miss. It also gives us a chance to visit the morning market on Friday before handing the car back.

Two days in Niue

Monday

On Monday morning we woke to see a pod of small dolphins in front of the boat. After pulling ourselves together we dinghied ashore to check in. Niue has the most unique dinghy dock we’ve encountered so far. One pulls up along side the dock and attaches a hook from a dockside crane to a prepared bridle on the dinghy. You exit the dinghy and climb the stairs and use the nearby control to raise the dinghy out of the water, swing the crane around and then lower the dinghy onto a trolley. One then wheels the dinghy over to the dinghy park and leaves it on the ground. Leaving shore entails reversing the same process.

Our first stop was the customs office. There we met Kerry and Andrew from Mariposa, Jenny and and John from Ile de Grace as well as Anne from Infinity who was just leaving. The customs officer was friendly and welcoming which is always such a pleasure.

Our next stop was the immigration office attached to the police station. We met the same crowd as we all had the same need to check into the country. Again, all was friendly and welcoming. Soon we were done and officially in.

We carried on walking south down the road looking for the indian restaurant we’d heard about. We found it before too long. It was not spectacular but it would do. We let them know we would be there the following evening. A short walk further took us to Alofi Car Hire where we booked a car for two days starting Tuesday morning.

Back in town we first visited the yacht club and vowed to return for their full english breakfast. We dropped off our washing at the laundrette then checked out the duty free beer place. We decided to buy a few of each as samplers. We’d heard that it is cheaper to buy here at duty free prices than in Tonga.

Next we went back to the yacht club for a delicious egg, bacon, sausage, beans and toast breakfast with a beer. There we again met the Mariposas with whom we chatted for a while. Before leaving we had an ice cream each.

Next stop were the showers down by the block owned by the yacht club which we have access to as part of our mooring rental. Without a working water maker we can’t have decent showers on the boat so this was a delight.

By the time we were back on the boat it was early afternoon. The internet was now working although outgoing email was a struggle. That was eventually fixed and soon we were playing catch up on everything.

In the evening we went back ashore for the “sausage sizzle” at the Niue Yacht Club. There we met old and new friends and had a good evening.

Tuesday (Helen’s Birthday)

We were ashore by 8:30 and met at the dock to be taken back to the car hire place to complete the minimal paperwork and collect our car.

We first drove south hoping to find the fruit market. We got the wrong place and found it closed anyway. We visited the nearby Matavai resort for it’s excellent views of the coast but were too late for breakfast.

Feeling hungry we headed back north to Alofi to get something to eat. We passed the fruit market and it was closed too. We later found out that if you didn’t get there by 6am you wouldn’t get much anyway. We visited the duty free place and bought duty free beers for the next 2 months leaving them there for later pickup.

We then drove over to the SE corner of the island to visit the chasms. It must be noted that Niue is an uplifted coral atoll. The land is mainly made of coral that formed on the sea bed and has been pushed up cracking in many places forming chasms here and there.

Out first stop was Anapala chasm. From the car park it was a short forest trail followed by 99 steps down into a narrow chasm with fresh water at the bottom. The forest trail was eerie with coral formations poking up through the undergrowth almost looking like ancient ruins. The chasm was really interesting with all sorts of deposits and formations on the walls. The water at the bottom looked deep but narrow. We declined to swim to the other end.

Our next stop was the famous Togo chasm. This was a much longer through forest and then over a very rugged wind swept terrain with vast areas of sharp, spiky coral formations all around. The chasm was entered by descending a long wooden ladder into a sandy oasis. There were watery caves to explore (reminding us a little of the Baths at the BVIs). We climbed over some sharp coral rocks (in our flip flops) to reach another area. Flat sand with palm trees edged by vertical walls of compressed coral forming a canyon with a stagnant pond at the other end. It felt like a lost world.

Our third chasm, Vaikona, was listed on the map but not in our guide. We’d heard that the boys on Bubbles had enjoyed this one. Even though we’d brought shoes we explored this one in our flip flops as we’d done ok so far. This turned out a bit of a mistake. After a pleasant forest trail with the usual coral poking through for the unwary we then had to traverse a long section of sharp corally rocks. It was hard work avoiding cuts on the sharp edges everywhere. Then it became a mixture of dense overgrowth and sharp coral (you get the continuous theme of sharp edges here) which often had us ducking to get through tight spaces. We eventually got to a point where we could look down into a chasm from up above. Pushing on a little further we came to a sign mentioning a cave and to enter at our own risk due to falling rocks. We saw the path continue figuring we’d crossed an ocean at our own risk so could manage this. The path became harder still to traverse eventually opening out near the coast. We made it right up to the east coast where we were treated with an amazing sight of tremendous waves crashing against a very rugged shore. Looking out we could see the same seas we had sailed through to get here and were more than happy to be nestled in a safe bay not going anywhere.

Heading back Helen pushed on ahead keen to get away from the sharp corals which were shredding her flip flops. Ben and I explored the area around the cave sign and found the cave which was really a place where part of the ground had shifted downward leaving a 45 degree gash in the ground. We entered the darkness of the cave crouching as the headroom was pretty low. The gash worked it’s way down to the floor of the chasm we’d seen earlier. Had we been all together we may have push on to the bottom. As it was we felt we had to go and chase Helen.

Good thing we did as we got a little lost on the way back missing a turn ending up in a vast area of, guess what, sharp coral. Helen had also made the wrong turn and we found her looking for the path onwards. Had only one set of us made the wrong turn we may have got badly separated and out of touch. A good lesson learned. We eventually found the right path and were soon heading back. We met the first people/tourists all day – a bunch of young folks on vacation here from NZ. We chatted for a while before wishing them well and headed back to the car.

We made it back to town in time to pick up our beer from the duty free store. Then we picked up our washing and visitied the supermarket to provision. We then drove back to the quay, plonked the dinghy into the water and loaded it up as much we could leaving some beer in the car. We parked the car then headed back to Dignity to unload.

We had a couple of hours rest aboard Dignity before we headed back ashore for dinner. While the place was a little shabby the curries we had were excellent and filled us up. The rotis we ordered for starters were delivered after our main course. Ben and I managed to stuff ours down but Helen saved hers for later.

Back on the boat we settled down to watch a movie. During the movie we heard the sounds of a nearby whale. Looking out we could see a large creature just behind one of the nearby yachts. Hopefully we’ll get to see one in the daylight sometime soon.

The weather continues to be a bit crappy and windy. We have the car for another day and plan to visit some of the sights on the NW side of the island today. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll go diving at the sites nearby. Not sure if Helen will go as there are lots of snakes in the water – not her cup of tea.

A pounding passage

Given the information we had available to us and what transpired for us and other vessels in the vicinity, our decision to leave at 9:30am yesterday seems to have been the right one. However, being the best option available didn’t make it a lot of fun. The forecast was for 20-25 knots of wind. What we had was 25-35 all day and night long.

We had the main double reefed and the head sail reefed in too. We had the regeneration on all day and night just to try and control our arrival time, hopefully making it in after dawn. Given that the distance was over 140nm it was a struggle to keep Dignity from doing the distance in under 20 hours.

The seas picked up to between 3 and 4 meters in height which gave us a pounding. At the best of time it was a wild ride. At times waves would crash over and sometimes it felt like we were being hit by a bus.

During Helen’s late night shift the head sail managed to get wrapped around itself back winding at the top and getting a bit tangled. I was sleeping in the cabin in case of any issues so I got the call. In 35 knots of wind and crashing seas I sorted out the head sail. We agreed we needed to get the main down which we’ve never done under such conditions. We managed it although it was a bit of a struggle. Afterward, with just the head sail out, the running was much more comfortable.

Dawn found us screaming around the corner of Niue where the seas picked up further. At one time we sustained a 16 knot surf down a huge wave. As we rounded the corner the winds subsided and the seas flattened. We contacted the officials to let them know we were arriving and we contacted the yacht club for a mooring. As it is Sunday here we can’t clear in but we can sit here for the day. I’ve had a few hours sleep to catch up on the little I had overnight. After all, we have nothing else to do. We’ve arranged for an internet connection but it’s taking time to set up. I think we may end up being lucky to get one today.

A few boats we know or at least have spoken to are here: Trim, Ile de Grace, Freezing Rain, Joule, Mariposa. Hopefully we’ll get to see some of these folks over the next few days. We’ve spoken to Ken on Trim and he’s already eaten at the one and only Indian Restaurant here. He says it is good so we’re now committed to going there on Helen’s birthday on Tuesday.

Beveridge Reef

We approached the reef from the north tacking our way in against the wind which was now beginning to clock round to the ESE. On the way in we were hailed by one of the two vessels in the reef, Ile de Grace. We learned that both they and Trim, who we’d met in Palmerston, were anchored in the middle of the reef, presumably to give them room to drag through the recent heavy weather. Our plan was to motor on through to the east side of the reef and anchor on the sand. We learned they were planning a fish supper which we agreed to join and would make plans throughout the day. We had plenty of choice where to anchor and picked a spot in about 10ft of water.

Shortly after arriving we were met by John and Jenny from Ile de Grace on their way back from snorkeling on the reef. They wanted to say hello. They were interested in the hybrid boat as I knew was Ken from Trim so we suggested having the fish dinner aboard Dignity. Not long after, Ken and Laurie popped by on their way out to the reef and we had a quick chat with them too.

We spent the rest of the morning resting and catching up on some needed sleep.

After lunch, Ben and I headed out for a snorkel on the reef, Helen deferring her swim until she’d heard from us. We were out for about an hour. The water was a little cooler than we’ve been used to and their was a bit of a current coming over the reef. All the same, the water was crystal clear. We could see for a very long way. There were plenty of fish to see, often quite large, and we had a reef shark cruise along with us for a while. We had hoped to see some lobsters. Ben spotted one that looked a little ill and shot it. We discovered it was just a hollow carapace – no wonder it didn’t look it’s best.

At 5pm local time we all met aboard Dignity for dinner. Everyone had cooked something different and it was all good. There was some excellent curried mahi mahi, some grilled wahoo and some mahi mahi pasta from Helen accompanied by freshly baked bread and followed by lemon cake and cookies. Delicious.

Wanting to get into the new timezone and realizing we have another two hours to shift in Tonga we stayed up to watch a movie. Helen didn’t stay a wake for too long but Ben and I made it through. Here we were, miles from anywhere, anchored on a pinnacle of rock rising from the floor of the Pacific watching Kill Bill with the stars shining over head.

We plan to stay here today and, if the weather permits, leave for Niue tomorrow.