Sunday, December 4, 2016

Rarotonga and Niue August 2016

Rarotonga, Cook Islands
We were so happy to discover some family history.  Geoff and the boy's great great great uncle was buried in Rarotonga.  Their great great great great grandmother was also buried in Rarotonga, but we could not find her gravestone, it is probably one where the print was already worn away.   The National Archives was so helpful and provided us with lots of family information that we still have not had time to review, as we need good wifi to do it.   They said they would even send old newspaper articles and clippings that made it into their archives.  It was very exciting that we were able to come to the one of 15 islands and find that it was the one island where the family had lived. 
We finished our stay by hiking to the Needle, an old lava shaft, which is a pretty high point on the island. We started from the harbor and walked into the local neighborhood and past the local power plant.  It was very lush with lots of plantations and farms.  We saw lots of pigs that we just so happy eating and sleeping. 
Overall, we have to say that we were so pleasantly surprised with how much we enjoyed Rarotonga.  Incredibly nice people, beautiful scenery and very laid back.

Beginning of the walk to the Needle

Different terrain

Geoff giving the pig a coconut

Papaya trees
more pigs, everywhere

Noah and Horatio on the Needle hike

Local school boys jumping into the harbor after winning their soccer game

Goodbye Rarotonga

We caught a HUGE mahi mahi on the way to Niue

Niue – The Rock
Niue is about 200 or so miles east of the northern Tongan island group of Vavau.  Niue is one of the world’s smallest states, but is the largest block of coral.  Because of its unusual geological formation, Niue is riddled with underground caves and tunnels.  Niue is also a self-governing country with free association with New Zealand.  Unlike the Cooks that use NZ dollars and Cook coins, Niue’s currency is all in NZ dollars.  They speak Nuiean, a Polynesian language, but also English.

Upon arriving to Niue, you really do understand why they call it the Rock, it looks like one giant rock coming out of the ocean.  It is not like the Cooks or French Polynesia where there is an island with an atoll around it, so there is not a nice lagoon to cruise around or swim in and there is no lagoon protection from waves.   There is no harbor to come into, just some mooring balls to tie to on the west side of the island in the capital of Alofi.   So, staying here can be very dangerous during wind shifts from the west and high swell. The swell in the mooring field was significant enough that the cake for Geoff’s birthday was considerably lopsided.  I think we were all just happy to have had a safe passage and now moored to celebrate with birthday cake!

Happy Birthday to Geoff

Mooring field in Niue

Boat launch - getting our dinghy out of the water

Enough anchored in Niue - view from local mini golf cafe

The Niue Yacht Club, NYC, is the biggest little yacht club in the world.  We have decided we will become members as it only costs $20!  They manage the moorings and provide free wifi and hot showers-woohoo!    Checking in was very easy as customs will meet you at the dock.  The only very precarious thing to worry about is the dock landing.  As there is no harbor, the swell/waves usually come right into the dock landing.  So, it can be very dangerous and sometimes not tenable at all.  You have to lift your dinghy out with a crane for fear of your dinghy being bashed to bits against the dock with high surges of waves and wind.  We managed to get to the dock and get very wet getting out of the dinghy and then able to hoist it out of the water. 

The town itself is very quiet and everyone is super friendly.  Since we arrived on a Saturday, not a lot was open, but we did walk around the main town and grab a roti at Gill’s, the local Indian restaurant.  It was very good!  They also have a Bond liquor store where on the day of arrival and day of departure, you can purchase duty free alcohol.  We found it interesting that you could buy on the day of arrival.  As most countries only allow for duty free alcohol on day of departure.  So, we made a stop at the Bond! 

We were very excited about touring this little island country.  Niue is a limestone cap on an extinct volcano.  It is an elevated island on 65 feet high cliffs.  It is only 100 square miles with the highest point being 223 feet.  The highlight of Niue is to explore the caves and sea tracks.  The natural wonder of the island is spectacular.  So colorful and beautiful.  Fresh and saltwater coming together in the pools that are amazing to swim in.It has unsurpassed water clarity with lots of swimming coves, caves, chasms and lots of sea tracks for exploration.  They also have good mountain biking!  Also, during high season, what we would call summer months, is whale watching.  Lots of whales swim around in the moorings!  You can also work with the local whale exploration team and take your boat out to learn about and record the whales and take pictures of them.

Niue Yacht Club located in the Backpackers lodge 
since the past cyclone destroyed its previous location

Miriam, Horatio and Noah at the Mini Golf Cafe
 with Enough in the background

One of the many Sea Tracks

Noah with a crab

Geoff is inspired by the craftsmanship of the local vaka boat builders

Horatio at Matapa Chasm 

One of the Limu pools

Another Sea Track

Horatio and Noah on the way down to a freshwater cave

View of the stairs on cave walk

Spectacular ocean view on eastern side of island

Colorful caves

One of many abandoned homes due to cyclone damage

We found that Niue was one of our biggest surprises so far in cruising the South Pacific.  It is incredibly beautiful with so many caves and natural pools to swim in.  We had to admit that we enjoyed it more than a lot of French Polynesia.  Not only for the natural wonders, but for the kindness and helpfulness of the local people and also for provisioning and good restaurants.  Two ships come per month and they get lots of products from New Zealand, so the food items are very good.  We really wished we would have provisioned a lot more here as we were to discover that Tonga is not as good for food products.

There is a local vaka (canoe) builder in town that has turned vaka building into an art form.  His name is Fai (Taumafai) Fuhiniu.  We saw one of his vakas in the Visitor’s Center in Niue and asked if the builder was in town.  Niue having such a small population, his daughter actually works at the Visitor’s Center.  She said she would take us to his house to meet him the next day.  We went to rent a car that day so we could tour the island and the lady that was helping us at the Niue Car Rental was Fai’s wife!  Very small town!  We spent a few hours the next day at their house and saw his workshop and discussed his work ethic and process on vaka building.  He builds some of the fastest vakas in all of the South Pacific.   Lots of his vakas are gifted to important dignitaries and have been given as gifts or bought as artwork for many famous people.  He has also had National Geographic articles printed about him.  It was a great time.  Noah and Horatio made friends with his granddaughter and we ended up leaving with, it seemed like, an entire banana tree!  Lots of banana bread to be made!

Like most places in the South Pacific, Niue has been hit by a cyclone and the damage could be seen all over the island.  It was very apparent as there were so many houses that have been abandoned and left to rot.  So sad.
On a positive note, almost every night we could hear the whales talking to each other in the mooring field.  They really swim right next to your boat and swim underneath them.  You could see them coming up to breath just 100 feet from the boat.  It was a little scary as it was night, because you couldn’t really see them when they were about to surface, but it was so exciting when they did.  Hearing them talk all night was so melodic. 

We knew the weather was going to change soon with a shifting of the winds to come from the North, so we decided we would leave for Tonga after spending a beautiful week in Niue.  We really wished we could have spent two weeks here!