The first Monday we were in Niue was all about boats.
Find all the posts from our 2016 trip to Niue under the tag: Niue.
boat day — the day the freighter made its monthly visit. This time apparently it was arriving empty and taking things away.
We were staying at Restoration Reef, a small house right on the cliff top in South Alofi and with fabulous views of the Pacific Ocean, even while lying in bed. That’s how it was that I spotted the freighter nearing Niue at around 6 am. It was tracking from North to South quite far out. By close to 7 am it was heading the other way, seemingly right under the window.
I jumped up, dressed and grabbed my camera bag then drove a few hundred metres down to Sir Robert’s Wharf to watch.
The freighter stops at the edge of the reef about 50 metres away from the wharf then a government boat runs to and fro with lines to tie it up and people who board for inspections and so on. Meanwhile the concrete barge arrives and is lifted into the water. I left about then, but the barge is towed to and fro carrying containers and other loads.
In trying to research Restoration Reef before our visit I was totally unable to find out exactly where it was, so here’s some tips. It’s in South Alofi, opposite Alofi Rentals and next door but one to Vaiolama Cafe. Find it on Google Maps at: 19°03’40.2"S 169°55’44.1"W.
The thing about the wharf is that small boats can tie up on the south side, while the north side is all visible reef.
By late in the afternoon the freighter had been loaded and left for its next destination.
In the afternoon we went on a whale watching tour with Magical Niue Sea Adventures looking for humpbacks. Because the freighter was there the wharf was closed to everyone else, but Magical Niue had a special dispensation to launch their boat. It meant though that we had to load up at their base by the airport, drive to the wharf, quickly launch and board the boat and be on our way. There were 8 passengers and 2 crew, Rami and Ian.
The tour company provided us all with wetsuits and gave Deb and me fins for snorkelling. We had our own full face snorkel masks.
We spent about 4 hours on the water, travelling as far north as Talava Arches, but not getting too far from shore, in part because there is deep water right at the edge of the reef.
According to Seafriends Geography of Niue:
Niue is an old and inactive volcano that rose above the sea before it died. The island itself rises steeply some 20 to 30 metres above sea level, although some inland spots are as high as almost 70 metres. Around the island is a coral reef only a few metres wide, and beyond that is deep sea.
Ian, an Australian, drove the boat, stopping here and there, then Rami our tour guide would drop a microphone into the sea. We could hear whale song each time and Rami would decide whether we should wait in place for the whale to surface, or move closer to the probable source of the sound.
Eventually, after some false alarms and a bit of snorkelling by some of those on the boat, a whale did surface then dive between the swimmers in the water and the shore. I was able to grab a couple of photos, but the show wasn’t specially splendid, so the photo isn’t either.
It’s the luck of the draw with such things. On a whale watching trip in Tonga in 2012 we had several close encounters with whales.
One of the wonderful things about the tour, apart from just being out on the water and seeing Niue from offshore, was the flying fish. A couple of times what seemed to be bright blue birds skimmed over the water for long distances, but I soon realised they were flying fish. They were too fast and too random for me to have any chance of a photo.
Later, back at Restoration Reef, we would see boats close to shore with spotlights at night. Apparently that’s how you catch flying fish. We then heard various tales about flying fish being good to eat, raw, or being used for bait.
I also couldn’t get over the colour of the sea on our tour. Back home in New Zealand we’re used to seeing deep green sea, though of course it can be other colours too. The sea on our tour was the most astonishing rich deep dark blue, pretty much like in the Talava Arch and Alofi photos above.
I guess it’s to do with the temperature of the water and how clean the water is around Niue. Niue has no rivers or streams, and although some fresh water filters out into the sea at odd points there’s no sediment, sand (or pollution) being washed out. Whatever the reason though, it was a beautiful colour.
At one point on our tour a nearby yacht radioed us about the whales. They identified themselves as a Whale Research Vessel. Apparently yacht owners volunteer their boats for this activity. Their fuel cost is covered by the Niue Whale Research Project.
Niueans hold [humpback whales] culturally ‘tapu’, or sacred, and have traditions and stories involving whales dating back centuries. Being so isolated geographically, Niue is an important place for the endangered Oceania Humpback Whale, many of which pass by to rest or nurse their young during the long perilous migration.
One of the great things for tourists though is that you don’t have to go out on a boat to see the whales. The sea is so deep so close to shore that the whales can often be seen from land.
In fact, there are several spots around the island signposted as being for whale watching, with coin operated high-powered binoculars. Several cafes also have large binoculars on the counter for visitors. Up at Sails Bar near Makefu apparently the owner rings a bell when a whale is spotted.
I was lucky enough later in the week to manage a couple of shots from a viewing platform at Makefu, about 10 minutes drive north of Alofi. The whale sighting was brief, but burst mode on my camera helped.