Four days on Niue.

Thu 15 Sep 2016 03:25

Four days on Niue.

Sunday 11th September. Grey skies and later rain. We went in the dinghy to visit Verne r and Christina on Wind Dance iii and were kindly entertained with freshly made coffee and an early light lunch.

Christina regailed us with stories of the four lost yachts on the Tuamotus so far this year and then the disappearing sailmaker.

One of the yachts’ single handed skipper had died while under way and his yacht delivered him onto a reef. Another was manned by two young men who had fallen asleep and left the autopilot to do the work. A third yacht suffered careless navigation and a strong current, causing it to mount a reef and another fell foul of the warning not to arrive near the reefs at night.

As for the sailmaker, I really felt for these sailors. They left their suit of sails to be inspected and repaired, and paid a deposit, only to return and find the sailmaker had disappeared, his workshop cleared of all items, their sails included.

We had intended to go ashore to stretch our legs but the weather looked so threatening that we returned to Zoonie’s welcoming saloon with the knowledge that Verner and Christina would join us for the second day of our car hire.

Rob tried in vain to get a signal from overhead satellites so we could send emails and a blog but for the first time ever they seemed to be passing us by.

How to catch a flying fish.

Take a small boat with motor, a few torches and a large scoop net. After dark motor gently out into the bay, turn on the torches and aim the beams just ahead of the slowly moving boat. Wait. Catch the flying fish as they leap away from the boat, as one would butterflies on an English summers day.

Mystery of the nocturnal cliff scourer.

He was most probably hunting coconut crabs for a tasty supper! We see them often, scampering up or down their hiding places.

Monday 12th. Number 1 car day.

Opaahi Bay is a tiny double bay which is constantly used by local fishermen. They store their beautiful little pakas (piroques or outriggers) either side of the rocky path leading down to the natural gulley dividing the shore hugging reef. Each Paka has a palm frond lying over the seat area to keep the wet out of these solid wood canoes. They are works of art and love. The single canoist goes out in the early morning or evening, at half light. With a hand line he catches small fish, to be used for bait, with the doughballs he has softened in his mouth. He taps the side of the paka to attract the fish and keeps them in the ruck sack on his back.

Standing at the foot of the path, overlooking the bay we were in the position of the painted warriors, armed with spears and clubs, who in 1774 were confronted with eighteenth century sailors, led by Captain Cook, attempting a landing from their brig, Endeavour, anchored just off the reef.

What can they have thought about these foreigners? In two other parts of the island Cook’s attempts at landing had been successfully thwarted, but here the chief may have been more lenient or perhaps curious. After a short stay and the unwelcome offering of beads and medals as gifts Cook sailed away, doubtless to the pleasure of the warriors who were unaware Cook had claimed the island for the English crown, an act that may seem very arrogant today but appeared to be the royal dictate at the time.

All around this limestone island, its coastline measuring 64km, are deep chasms, caves, pools and sea tracks (walks along the shore hugging reef) and we visited Anapala Chasm, with its 155 carefully crafted steps and sturdy chain link railing, supported by posts all the way down.

To get to the start of the trail we drove across one of the many wide open grass areas at the centre of a small village each with a well kept church. Most of the tiny, prefabricated houses are now derelict. Some have vehicles and motor bikes parked alongside, as if the residents pulled up for the last time and then simply left. The homes and vehicles are rotting away together, their only company the graves of the ancestors in front of them.

Where the odd bungalow is still inhabited the graves are well tended. One mausoleum had a picnic table alongside, giant speakers within, lights all around the roof and a barbecue close by. Clearly the family liked to include their dearly departed in their al-fresco suppers.

In 2005 a severe cyclone hit Niue, devastating their plantations and destroying everything in its path. So not only did people leave their wrecked homes and livelihoods, as Rob said many must have died.

We drove through thick brush to arrive at the little car park and set off through the limestone undergrowth to the chasm steps. The narrow weaving path meandered through great chunks of limestone on each side. In the shallow soil ferns and small trees thrived and low plants with purple leaves (that we keep as houseplants in the UK) created a beautiful rock garden.

Remembering the many steps to Machu Picchu we didn’t think these 155 steps would be too much of a challenge. As we descended the sound of the roaring waves on the reef disappeared and suddenly a high, narrow cleft in the rocks rose above us. We could see a slither of daylight at the other end and in between a pool of pure freshwater. Historically used by the locals who carted the water to the village in coconut shells, we had our drink from a plastic lid I had in my bag before clambering up to the limestone garden once more.

There are a few ‘bush’ roads on the island, suitable for mountain bikes and we walked into the Vinivini Bush Road just to get a sample of the Huvalu Forest, which is located on the central plateau of the island. A disused limestone quarry with a rusting CAT bulldozer, which must have provided rock for roads, lay to one side and areas of low brush suggested that beneath were what had been plantations in the past.

We had an early lunch above the Liku Sea Track as we had booked a snorkel trip for the afternoon. Arriving early we completed the formalities and wandered through to the Makavai Resort for a Cappuccino overlooking the bay next to the one we were moored in.

The weather was cool and grey as we watched a mother whale feeding her two week old baby in the water below. A couple, who later introduced themselves as Andrea and Mark from Auckland, New Zealand, were also interested. They turned out to be the other couple on the trip and along with Gary, whose wife watched our antics from the balcony of her hotel room above us, we were complete.

Israeli David was our guide. We had been watching this female whale from on board Zoonie over the weekend. She would suspend herself with just her flukes above water so her calf could feed easily rather than having to suckle her from below. This is very rare behaviour, only seen in whales off the eastern shores of Australia. She will have learned it through copying other mothers as her group mingled with another group from E Australia, or from her own mother.

“She’s a great mum, she gives her baby 500 litres of thick, pink milk each day, it’s the consistency of toothpaste,” Dave said as we circled her quietly from a distance of 100 metres, “In two months he will be half her size and only then big and strong enough to move on to Vavau. Niue is only a station, the whales pass through here, leaving as and when their young are big enough.”

I had been watching the heavy swell breaking over the reef, inshore of us in a line of magnificent white/turquoise rollers, wondering where our ‘safe’ snorkelling spot would be. I thought that if its anywhere near those crashing hills of water then I’m NOT game!

The whale does not like having dolphins near her while she is feeding so thankfully for her and us we moved to the far end of the bay and spotted some spinner dolphins coming over to what was by now a routine daily visit from the rib in calmer waters.

Wet-suited and flippered, snorkels in place, we took it in turns, one each side of the rib, at Dave’s word, to slip over the side, holding a rope loop as he motored us slowly forward with the dolphins leading the way.

At last my turn came and with it the realisation of the beautiful 3D world of these friendly creatures. As soon as my head looked beneath the surface I saw dolphins all around and down into the depths below. One was sniffing another as if she was maybe on heat. Rob said later that he saw two mating, belly to belly. Under two foot long babies swam and skittered about with the adults.

I looked down as a single dolphin spun around ascending directly towards me. At my level it turned, looked me in the eye and swam with me just out of reach. David called to me and Andrea on the other side to say “Hold tight we are going to catch them up.” Both hands holding on as we sped up to their cruising speed.

After a few minutes of this we picked up a little buoy and dropped over the side for a short snorkel. To be honest, with no sun and a grey sky the coral garden was not at its best and we were not sorry to make our way back to the hoist at Avatele Beach where the truck and trailor awaited us.

We had been three hours in cool air and despite our wetsuits I was chilled and famished. Just before we left Andrea and Mark gave us their address and offered us their spare room should we visit Auckland. We gratefully accepted and look forward to getting to know them better.

Gill’s Indian Restaurant in Alofi main town was the only eatery open but it did us fine and the cold canned beer hardly touched the sides.

Tuesday, Number 2 car day.

Verner and Christina picked us up and we made our way to the hoist once more. The weather had improved and blue skies escorted us to Palaka Cave, a big cave with thick stalactites joining roof to floor like the columns of St Paul’s Cathedral. Using the camera flash sometimes brought out the colours of the dissolved minerals better that the naked eye.

The family with three young daughters from the catamaran moored next to us arrived. One of the girls ran sure footed through the cave, her mum holding her flip flops and later dad lifted them all onto a higher floor, like an attic, which to their delight they had all to themselves.

The cave opens out through a vast window onto the shallow biscuit coloured reef and the turquoise sea beyond. In tiny round rock pools fish, sea cucumbers and crabs awaited the next high water and beneath our feet strange thread like creatures emerged from tiny holes and undulated across the pink rock.

We returned to the car being careful not to snag on the enormous spiders’ webs that traversed the steps, some occupied and all evidence of the sheltered area they were suspended in.

It was time once again for snorkels and flippers at the Limu Pools. At low tide these are cut off from the sea and provide safe areas for swimming and the like. Cold fresh water streams flow in and shocked the skin as we swam by. The fresh water also causes one’s vision to blur as it mixes with salt water making photography a challenge.

New steps are being laid covered with textured fibre glass to make access safer. The man working on them usually works on boats and commented that his steps might well last longer than our fibre glass boats. “Don’t think so,” we replied in jest.

The morning was drawing towards lunchtime but we were reluctant to stop exploring as most restaurants closed at 2.00pm anyway and the car was due back at 4.00pm. So we pooled our resources, shared Verner and Christina’s apple, they shared our cake and then, master of resourcefulness Verner started to hack into a coconut.

Walking through another lovely limestone rock garden I dipped into the half