Peter and Margie Benziger
Tue 11 Jan 2011 03:37
Position Report – 19:03.056S 169:55.983W
Been there…Done that...Now it’s Time for Something Niue (New-E)
What a little gem of an island! And, to think we almost missed it because they don’t have a dinghy dock!
You see, Niue is an unusual island in that it is a former atoll now sitting high above sea level on a limestone plateau. Most of the island is surrounded by reef and the steep limestone cliffs along the circumference make for a rather forbidding landfall. The only anchorage, off the main settlement of Alofi, is protected from easterly winds but completely open to the sea from the north, south or west and, as I mentioned, there is no dinghy dock. So how do we get to shore? Or, maybe we just skip Niue and continue on another couple hundred miles to Tonga?
I’m sure that many cruisers do bypass Niue but they are missing out on a very special island and some of the most amazing sightseeing in the entire region. What the intrepid yachtsman finds, upon penetrating the gap in the fringing reef on the west side of the island and picking up one of the 15 mooring balls, is a huge concrete jetty at the bottom of a very steep hill. On the jetty is a crane which can be raised and lowered to pick your dinghy right out of the water and rest it on the tarmac. It sounded much more cumbersome than it really was and, after the first go, we popped ourselves in and out of the water with ease. (Truth be told… 22 years of hauling our J-24 in and out of the water with various cranes might have given us a little bit of an advantage but it really wasn’t all that difficult!)
From the jetty, we hiked up the hill to the little town of Alofi, passing a huge sign which said “Welcome to Niue! Home of the Niue Yacht Club, The Biggest Little Yacht Club in the World!” Well, you KNOW we had to check this out!
But first, some background…Niue is an independent, self-governing state but all Niueans are New Zealand citizens and, the majority of Niueans actually live in New Zealand. At one time, when copra was processed here, there were over 6000 people living on the island but now the population is down to around 1200. Sadly, a hurricane devastated the island in 2004, which resulted in another mass exodus, but the gritty Niueans left have made a steady recovery although hundreds of abandoned houses still sit disconsolately along the roads and lend a rather eerie feeling to the landscape.
There is little industry here other than fishing, some Noni fruit export and a very nascent tourism development effort. New Zealand helps out with the funding for travel promotion but it’s exclusively directed at regional tourism and primarily ex-pats living in New Zealand. The island depends heavily on the 250-280 cruising yachts that call here each year for its revenue.
However, a financial crisis that hit the government just a few days prior to the arrival of the Blue Water Rally fleet threatened to scuttle our plans for a Niue rendezvous. We dubbed it “The Great Niue Beer Bust.” You see…HEAVEN FORBID…Niue ran out of beer!!!
Well, Niue didn’t exactly run out of beer although there was nary a bottle to be found upon our arrival. It seems the government ran out of money before the end of the month and, in order to pay those creditors whose services were indispensible, and to salvage a little credibility in the face of criticism from the opposition, the government CANCELLED THE ORDER for the cargo ship that was making the “beer run” to the island. Gad Zooks!!! What’s a self-respecting, Jimmy Buffett-loving “Son-of- a-son, son–of-a-son, son-of-a-son of a sailor” to do?
Remember former Miss America Anita Bryant? (Back when she was America’s sweetheart, long before she turned into that evil homophobic witch that spawned the anti-gay movement) She used to say, “A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.” Well, a day without beer on the Blue Water Rally is like a day without oxygen, for crying out loud! How were we to survive? The emails were flying back and forth…What to do? Who’s to blame? (Before we learned the true story, most of us assumed it was those nasty cruisers on the World ARC with Jimmy Cornell. They are about two weeks ahead of us on their own Rally and we figured that they were drinking all the beer just to spite us!) But, no matter what…this was truly a crisis of epic proportions!
In the end, it was determined that with supreme effort and some egalitarian distribution of the existing beer supplies aboard the BWR fleet in general, we could, in fact, continue on our intended course and visit a beer-barren Nuie. The way we figured it, they hadn’t run out of RUM so all was not lost!
Anyway, after huffing and puffing our way up the hill from the jetty, we walked through the ¼ mile strip that defines “downtown” Alofi. About mid-way along the trek, we found the Niue Yacht Club (photo) and knew we were going to feel right at home. Not only does the Yacht Club have the casual atmosphere of a little outdoor café, it hosts an ice cream parlor the likes of which we had not experienced since Panama! Ice cream in a dozen flavors all to die for!!! What’s not to like about this place? In fact, so many people have called on the Niue Yacht Club over the years that they now have more than 3,000 members! (You pay $20 bucks and you become a member on the spot – no vetting process for this rogues gallery) So that’s how they come to identify themselves as “The Biggest Little Yacht Club in the World.” Check out www.niueyachtclub.com.
It’s a great place to meet during the day and every night from 5-6pm, Keith Vial, the Commodore, and his wife head down to welcome new arrivals and entertain those assembled with stories of life on Niue and the exploits of sailors who came before us to these waters. Ahhhh, life is good…
But Niue’s main attraction, aside from the Yacht Club (Did I mention the ice cream?) is its incredible system of caves and chasms which dot the coastline. We hired a brand new 115hp Suzuki motorcycle, which was quite a step up from the little motor scooters we had rented in the past, and headed off to see the island.
But, let me take a moment to explain the process of renting a motorcycle in Niue. Basically, there is none! We showed up at Alofi Rentals down the street from The Biggest Little Yacht Club in the World and asked if we could hire a motorbike for one day. “No problem, “said Julie Lillicrap. I swear I am not making this up. I have her business card. It says Julie Lillicrap!!!
So Peter digs into his pocket and comes up with some cash but no credit card and no drivers’ license. “No problem,” says Julie Lillicrap. (I LOVE HER!) “You don’t need no stinking license or credit card!” Well, she didn’t exactly say it like that, but on Niue, there’s no needless nit-picking regarding necessary numerical documentation. (I’m working on my onomonopeia here, can you tell? Although spellcheck is a bit confused about onomonopeia so I may have it wrong.)
Anyway, we drove away with this hot little Suzuki motorcycle between our legs and off to discover Niue!
(Lauren and Amy, PLEASE NOTE….this does not change your father’s opinion that you should not date a guy who drives a motorcycle!!!)
The trip around the island was fantastic and we stopped at some amazing geological formations with spectacular views. I’ll attach a few photos here but they don’t do it justice. This is an INCREDIBLE place and a definite “must see” on your journey across the South Pacific!