Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Niue aka "The Rock"

Much to our dismay, we decided to pass Beveridge Reef by due to the extremely windy and rolly conditions. Since it is a submerged coral atoll, it does not offer much protection in those kind of conditions and even though the holding inside the atoll would have been good, we probably wouldn't have felt comfortable leaving Architeuthis to go snorkeling or anything. Instead, we pushed on to Niue (new-ay) which was only a day away. As soon as we made the course change things were much more comfortable on Architeuthis since we were now sailing almost dead downwind and we felt better about our decision to push on.

Being that Niue is a raised coral atoll, the anchoring is quite deep and mostly coral. Luckily, the Niue Yacht Club has installed about 18 moorings for the yachties to use during their stay on the island and lucky for us there were still a couple available when we arrived. We had heard about the humpback whales that often hang out in the mooring field singing and spouting all around the boats and sure enough as we came around the corner a small group of whales was there to greet us. Niue is a breeding and calving ground for the humpbacks and it just so happens to be their mating season down here right now.

Niue is unlike any other island we've been to so far and it is literally just a big hunk of limestone rock that is made entirely of uplifted coral. A long long time ago it was a coral atoll and then due to some plate tectonics it was raised about 100 feet. There are few beaches and no rivers so the surrounding water is amazingly clear with up to 50 meters of visibility. There are also tons of caves, chasms, and ravines all around the island to explore. Niue is also proud to be the world's smallest independent nation with a population of around 2000 and only 259 square miles of land area. They are in free association with New Zealand and all Niueans have NZ citizenship as well. As a result, we met a lot of Kiwi ex-pats living there and we might be running into a lot of Niueans when we get to New Zealand.

Our friends on Libis, Takalani, La Cueca, Balquidder, and Shalimar were all in Niue at the same time as us so we had tons of fun exploring the rock and partying afterwards with all of them. We also made some new friends on Mare Liberum, Maggie, and Kuheli who came all the way from Norway and Sweden and took the less traveled southern route across the pacific stopping in Easter Island, Pitcarin, and the Gambiers. They sure had some stories to tell! We also became fast friends with the yacht club commodore, Keith, and the woman who runs the backpackers building where the yacht club headquarters was, Ira.

Libis, Shalimar, and Architeuthis all teamed up one day and rented a big van to take to go explore some caves and chasms. First we went to Togo Chasm which starts off with a short hike through a tropical forest with the occasional protruding limestone rock. As soon as the ocean comes into view, so does the dramatic coastline studded with dark colored jagged coral pinnacles. and a heavy surf throwing up tons of spray. A well maintained trail and ladder leads down through the treacherous looking rocks to a narrow slot canyon with a white sandy floor and palm trees. One little cave we checked out leads out to the open to the ocean and was full of foam like a foam party or something. Ryan and Alex lugged their climbing gear down with them so they tried to find a way up out of the chasm to set up a top rope on a wall they found to climb but had no luck. Jelle climbed up a coconut tree and knocked down some coconuts for us to snack on and then we headed back to the van to go to the next cave.

The trail to the Vaikona Chasm was considerably longer and more dramatic with the occasional red trail marker to let us know we were going the right way. The forest had really cool dead coral pinnacles that we had to walk around and through, and the way the light was being filtered through the canopy made it really feel like being underwater at times. Finding the opening to the chasm that leads to the cave was a little difficult and then scaling the wall down into it was even more difficult. Luckily there was a rope set up to hold on to. Once down into the fern covered and sunlit chasm we donned our snorkel gear and jumped into a long clear pool which we were told had a passage to swim under at the opposite end. Holger check it out first and came back shortly saying that it was a short easy dive to get under the passage and into the cave. Inside the cave it was almost completely dark and our flashlights illuminated a magnificent under water cathedral of stalactites in the crystal clear water. We went what we thought was the right way only to discover a dead end and turn around to find another short underwater passage-way to the next cave. At this point we could either go on and find our way out a different opening and hike all the way back around to get our stuff, or just turn around and go back the way we came. We were all getting a little cold due to the dark cave environment and the cold spring water so we chose to swim back the way we came. Swimming under the last passage and back into the sunlit chasm where we left our stuff was probably the coolest part because of the way the hole was glowing light blue as you swam from the darkness into the light. The hike back was much faster now that we knew the way and it was kind of funny to see a bunch of people with swim suits and snorkel gear hiking through a forest. We zipped around the rest of the island to check out a few more spots but we were too tired to really enjoy them so we decided to go back another day. We headed back to the yacht club to have a couple of beers and relax.

The rest of our time on Niue was spent snorkeling with whales and sea snakes, exploring caves and tide pools, bbqing at the yacht club, and hanging out with old and new friends. We also helped the commodore Keith out with some mooring surveys due to some untimely mooring failures he had been having. Brand new mooring lines were magically unsplicing themselves. After much deliberation, we decided that the reason was that they had been installed without being pre-loaded and since the end of the splice had not been seized and no boats had tied up to them for some time previous, the splices had worked themselves free. The line was a particularly slippery line when new as well, but it was the line that the professional New Zealander mooring makers claimed was the best and what they used. Jared and myself along with Cory, Gaz, and Sarah from La Cueca dove all the moorings just to make sure none of the ones still out had the same problem. None of them had that problem, but the one Kuheli was tied up to was about to chafe through for an entirely different reason. The sub-surface float had slipped up the line to the surface allowing the line to have slack on it when no boat was tied up to it. The drooping line rubbed on the coral and chafed pretty heavily before Kuheli tied up to it. A very good reason to always inspect your own mooring! Poor Keith tried very hard to keep all the moorings in perfect condition, but without his own boat and dive partner he has no way to inspect them himself. Instead, he hires the folks who run Niue dive to inspect the moorings. They usually do this in a timely fashion but due to a stint of bad weather they got very backed up with dive charters and could not get to the inspection. To help Keith sleep at night, we volunteered to check the moorings in the mean time. Keith and all the other people at the yacht club were most helpful to us and all the yachties and it was the least we could do in return. It wasn't a bad place to dive either! Almost every time you get in the water you can hear the whales singing and making all their other weird noises. We could even hear them through the hull of our boat at night when they were very close and shallow. Fleur even got sprayed by the spout of one whale while she was sleeping in her v-berth because the hatch above her was open and they were that close!

So, now we're in Tonga with more humpback whales, and the internet is very slow so we can't post any pictures yet. We will post them as soon as we can. Promise!

1 comment:

Paku said...

Hello - nice post Christine. Are you okay if we re-publish this on our website http://www.NiueNews1.com with a link back to your article? Blessings, Paku.