The Niue sea krait (katuali) is one of the world’s most venomous snakes. I really don’t like snakes, whether they’re venomous or not. Yet I’m surrounded by three or four of them, making their way up like guided missiles from the coral reef deep below to the surface. Our snorkelling boat captain has reassured me, as have many others, that they’re harmless to humans as they can’t bite us, and I can scare them away by splashing around. I’m glad he waits until we’re back on shore before telling me about the time one curled around his bicep and went along for the ride.
I do a lot of splashing as we’re snorkelling around just outside Niue’s fringing reef. Part of the problem is the extraordinary water clarity and bright sunshine: the snakes are rising from ten metres below me but their black and white stripes look far closer than I’d like, almost close enough to touch. Oddly enough, they’re less scary when they are close enough to touch, in a rock pool in the reef.
Snake phobias aside, Niue is definitely the place to come if you need to wind back and relax for a week or two (it will be a round week, there’s only a flight on a Friday) somewhere nice and warm. The weather was great the whole time we were there – temperatures in the high 20s every day, with sunshine tempered by a constant light breeze from the trade winds and a little bit of cloud every now and then. It rarely got unpleasantly hot, only where we were in full midday sun and sheltered from the breeze.
One of Niue’s charms is that, if you feel like being lazy and lying around the pool or down by the sea reading a book, there will be little to disturb your rest; if you feel like getting out and about, there’s plenty of interesting places to visit (a rental car or other form of transport is a must).
Some of my favourite spots to visit were:
- Togo Chasm – even if you don’t fancy the climb down the ladder to the beach, the walk in is great, passing through the bush and then a weird landscape of fossilised coral pillars, with fantastic views of the wild seascape to be found along that part of the coast.
- Avatele Beach – we came here on a Sunday so got to combine some snorkelling with a rather tasty, old-school burger at the Washaway Cafe. We went snorkelling about mid-tide (much lower and it would have been uncomfortably shallow), and the currents slosh around the bay quite a bit so you get a good workout! Like so many places in Niue, there are freshwater seepages into the sea here, so you get a weird optical effect at times as the waters merge.
- Limu Pools – nice and sheltered swimming inside the reef, although it gets very shallow close to low tide. We saw lots of tiny, colourful fish here, including the bright blue neon ones, and some bigger angelfish and wrasses.
Opaahi Reef – no swimming here, but there were plenty of colourful corals visible through the crystal-clear water. It’s a very picturesque walk down, as the locals store their fishing canoes along the path.
- Seafood restaurants – The Japanese menu at Kaiika in Alofi was just divine: we had five different fish varieties, all scrupulously fresh, cooked in four different styles. The lightly cooked wahoo sushi was fantastic, and the tempura-cooked taro was pretty good too (actually, all the taro on Niue was good, we didn’t get a starchy dry mouthful anywhere). We enjoyed our meals of wahoo at Falala Fa as well.
We took the Commodore’s Orientation Tour on our first morning, which was well worth the time: not only did we get a taster of many of the places we’d go back to later in the week (and very helpful advice on optimum swimming times given so many spots are only safe or accessible at certain tides), we learnt lots about the island’s people and lifestyle (including the soap-opera story about how the island’s prison got its only prisoner), and more poignantly, about what encourages people to leave Niue and what brings them back. One of the most striking features of the island is number of empty and forlorn houses, some destroyed by Cyclone Heta, but others just abandoned as their owners have moved away and the population has dropped so much that no-one else moves in.
We could have timed our trip better than mid-October, as the humpback whales had not long departed and while there were rumours of one or two stragglers on the horizon, I never saw one. We’ve previously seen the humpbacks breaching in Tonga, and it’s a truly spectacular sight to see an animal of that size launch itself clean out of the water. I have enough trouble just hauling myself back into an inflatable without any help. The spinner dolphins were a bit shy too, we saw a large pod one day from the deck of Matavai Resort, where we were staying, but they played very hard to get when we tried to find them on our snorkelling trip. Ah well, that’s an excuse to go back again the next time a Kiwi winter starts to pall…