Summers in New Zealand can be full of fun, exploring and great times, but I’m not the biggest fan of the cold and wet Auckland winters. So, after some considerable time without a proper holiday, I jumped at the opportunity of spending a week in Niue to get away from all that. I never thought I’d become one of those people to desperately want to flee winter, yet here we are.
Niue is a small Pacific island in association with New Zealand that is home to around 1700 people in its 261km2 of area. Due to it being a big and flat coral reef, it is known as “the Rock of the Pacific” and became a famous spot for snorkelers and divers alike.
Our journey there started with the only one passenger flight that lands in Niue, departing from Auckland every Tuesday. This basically means you can only stay in blocks of one week there, and by the end of the first you start to know many of the tourists after meeting them in many of the attractions.
You don’t need a visa to stay less than 30 days there so customs and immigration were probably the easiest I ever experienced – they were out of arrival cards so they basically waved us past immigration after stamping our passports and asking a couple of questions. I guess that was the first taste we had of how easy-going the Niueans were.
Given you cross the International Date Line when arriving, you actually go back one day in time. We left on Tuesday and got there on Monday, which really confused my phone and had us confirming dates three times over when booking everything to avoid getting it wrong.
And it would be minutes until we built on the islanders’ personality: the owner of the rental car company met us at arrivals to take us to our car. He was a sweetheart then and at all other three times we casually bumped into him during our week there, as you do when in a place this small. He just threw me the keys and walked away, no paperwork necessary.
Our trusty steed for the week was a Hyundai ix35 that if not NZ New, at least spent some time here doing an overseas experience, as evidenced by its (valid) NZ WOF sticker from a Mt Roskill workshop still showing.
The small island has a road that goes around it and over the week, we drove the equivalent of 7 full laps of it. Our hotel, the Scenic Matavai Resort, was a mere 5km away from the airport in the route that also connects it to the country’s capital of Alofi, which became our stomping ground. And as soon as we finished checking in, we were greeted with niuean music and a chilled coconut, something that instantly brought back memories of my Brazilian summers. That and the amazing view.
We spent this first evening get acclimatised with the amenities and our surroundings, and finished up the day with dinner at the resort’s own Dolphin bar. You can never go wrong with Fish and Chips by the seaside.
It is said that historically, Niue only has 3 days of rain in August, which is a stark opposite to what we experience around the same time of year in Auckland. However, our second day on the island decided to be one of those rainy ones, but that was not enough to keep us inside.
We started our day with a delicious breakfast buffet that had a coconut bread that become a staple on my plate every day of the trip. We then started driving towards the capital to do some sightseeing and buy some things to have as snacks in the car. The supermarket we stopped by was in between shipments and mostly had canned food, so the decision was made to try eating out for every meal, and I don’t regret that for a second!
After a quick stop by the Crazy Uga Cafe (more on what an Uga is later) to pay for our rental car, we started driving North towards what’s arguably the most famous spot on the Island: the Limu Pools. The tide was very high, which meant some of the places were too deep to reach the bottom but also allowed for others to be explored. The views are great either way.
We stopped for lunch at Vaioleme Cafe, where I had a tuna toast and a great vanilla milk shake. A short drive (as are all there) away was Matapa Chasm, another famous spot where two big walls shelter a small pool that shines a beautiful green once the Sun hits it at midday.
The next stop was the Palaha Cave, and that was the first time we got to see the humpback whales close to us. These gentle giants come all the way from Antarctica to mate and calf in Niue and they put on an incredible show during this season. There was not a single day there where we couldn’t see these gracious swimmers around.
The third day started very early as we wanted to watch the Sun rise over the sea (yeah, we’re that kind of people…), and we did so by Puluhuki Beach. The East Coast of the island is a bit less explored and inhabited, so we took the opportunity of being around there to also stop by the Hikulagi Sculpture Park to take some pictures. Here, the ix35 had to work extra hard with all the potholes and gravel as the road is in a worse state.
On our way back, we decided to check out Amapala Chasm. After going down some steep stairs, you’ll see a dark and cold chasm that can be swam to a clearing on the other side. I’m terrible with cold water so I gave that one a pass, but my partner got in, got freaked out with the darkness and depth of the water but still made it to the other side and back.
After having driven for around 100km by this point, I couldn’t help but notice the number of abandoned cars around the island. Most of them were models we would have seen on NZ roads some decades ago, although a minority of them were quite unusual and interesting. I guess scrapping cars once they’re off the road is hard work in Niue, so Nature ends up reclaiming some of them.
Lunch this day was at the Crazy Uga café, which has its own selection of salads and burgers. Having delicious meals with incredible views surrounded by friendly animals was starting to become the norm at this point. The Niuean cats and dogs will always chase you up for a cuddle and don’t seem to mind the chickens and roosters that are literally everywhere.
And speaking of the Uga, when back at the resort, one of the locals brought one for us to check out. These big crabs are among the biggest invertebrates on Earth and will guillotine your finger off if you’re not paying attention. During summer months they are a common sight on the Island, but not so much now. So you basically have to choose between seeing whales or Ugas and tornados, and I must say I’m happy with my choice.
By day 4, we had already driven the equivalent of three laps around the Island, and had a plan of some of the places we want to check out for the first or a second time. Avaiki Caves was in the former group, and what a stunner this was. The cave structure shelters you from the sun so the water is slightly chillier, but the light that makes it to the water wakes up the colours and leads to one of the most beautiful views in Niue.
Now for the latter group, we went to Matapa Chasm once again. Exploring Niue is all about chasing the right tide and getting the most out of the hours of sunlight, so by getting both just right we got to see this postcard attraction in its most breathtaking.
Right by the start of the Hio Beach Track (which we recommend) is Hio Café, where we had and the juiciest coconut and some great fish tacos. At this point I was already convinced the food in this country was great, but I knew nothing!
The second repeat visit of the day was to Limu Pools, where the lower tide allowed us to explore other parts of it. Using a map of the island and populating it every day with the tide data was the best way to ensure visiting the spots at the better time. Hats off to my partner for always keeping track!
It was also this day that I drove past this family house that had two Subarus parked up, one of them being an STi in great condition, with a vanity plate no less. Car enthusiasm will always find a way, I guess!
Back at the hotel, it was time to kick back at the pool bar and enjoy the sunset. Our coast back home only faces the East so sunsets on the sea are an almost impossible sight. And one with whales passing by and tropical drinks, even more so.
Into day 5, the first stop was Hikutavake Pools. If snorkelling is one of the main reasons you’re visiting Niue, then you positively have to visit these pools. When the tide is low, the sea water cannot reach them, making them easy to swim in deep enough waters that shelter an immense amount of sea life. We spent the whole morning exploring every corner of the pools, until the incoming tide started jolting us onto the coral reefs.
You might have seen from other posts of mine that I like trekking, so we were craving going on a longer walk as Niue doesn’t get you to work very hard to check most attractions. And that’s what the Talava Arches track provided us with shortly after. This was the first time on the trip where I wore closed shoes!
It’s a rugged track with some points where you even have ropes at your disposal, and the rocks are always very sharp because of the coral origins, so caution is always advised here. But the views will reward you for your hard work.
Shortly after that, the weather decided to take another turn for the worst, so we started making our way back to the resort. But it was bucketing down so hard that it somewhat impacted the cultural demonstration we were booked to watch there. The folklore group had to bring their performance indoors, but it was still very interesting and entertaining. We then had a buffet full of famous Niuean dishes and some classics I would be happy to eat for every meal, forever. The Niuean music is as contagious and upbeat as you’d expect, and kept the resort booming until it was time to go to bed.
The next day was a very special one, but the details will have to wait a bit. This was an incredible week with plenty to share, so I’ll split the story into two posts. Keep your eyes peeled for the next one, and thanks for reading!