Friday, August 31, 2012

The Rock of Polynesia

"The Savage Island." Those are the names that have been associated with Niue (pronounced New-ay). Niue is the world's smallest independent nation sitting quite on it's own in the vast Pacific Ocean. That's where we are now safely tied to a sturdy mooring ball in perfectly clear water. It was a six day voyage (two days longer than anticipated) and a pretty tough one. It is good to be tied up to one of the 20 moorings provided by the Niue yacht Club (for a daily fee). There are 16 other sailboats here as well and it seems to be a place where people come and go the company will change.

We had to get our first clearance into the harbor through "Niue Radio" and then made an appointment to meet customs at the dock. Another boat had arrived late yesterday afternoon, so we coordinated out efforts to clear in together. Because the 259 square km Niue is one of the world's largest raised coral atolls or "makatea" - there is a fringing reef right against the island. And now, thanks to multiple volcanoes and plate shifting, the edge of the island is now quite high. That leaves little to no place to dock a dinghy – and certainly there is nowhere to drag it ashore. So when you go into the town pier, you tie your dinghy to a lift and climb up the stairs, and press a button and a crane lifts your dinghy out of the water and you move it to a "parking space" atop the pier. This is all a service provided by Niue. Barbara was nervous that our old dinghy wouldn't be able to handle the weight of the outboard and fuel on the lift and the dock didn't seem all that far. So we rowed in – and it was further than it looked! Rowing a rubber duckie isn't that easy – especially after six days at sea and a steady wind against you. But, we managed to get it to the pier and lift it out safely. We waited for quite some time for the customs agent to arrive in his truck and we did that portion of the clearing in process in the dinghy parking area. Keith, the Commodore of the Niue Yacht Club also came down to meet us – he is a gregarious New Zealander who has lived on Niue for about six years. He was very helpful with information. He then drove us on a quick tour of downtown Alofi – the main town on the island of 14 villages. He dropped us off at the Police station which is also immigration to finish our clearing in process. We then roamed through the town and had a wonderful lunch at Falala Fa (translates to Four Sisters). The currency here is New Zealand dollars. We then continued with the errands of arrival - sign up for internet (not very fast) and checked the exchange rates of US dollars for NZ dollars at a few places. The best deal was the "Bond Store" or the liquor store. So we had to buy a bit of beer and got the change in NZ dollars.

Niue is a breeding ground for the humpback whales and soon after we arrived, we heard two dive boats on the radio. "There is a whale right n front of you – I'm stopping to drift away from her and her calf." It is illegal to get too close to them and the other week in the mooring field, a whale got tangled in one of the mooring lines of a sailboat. The folks weren't on board (luckily probably). A lot of damage was done to the boat (a Hunter) with cleats torn out and the bow roller (that holds the anchor) torn off as well. The whale finally got away without breaking the mooring free from the several ton weight underwater. We want to see the humpbacks and hope we do – just not such a close encounter!

Tomorrow, we are renting a car with another boat and will tour the island. This is a place where there are lots of limestone caverns, sea caves, reef pools, grottos and rugged landscape. Good walking shoes needed! We'll get a good night's rest hopefully and be ready for some serious exploration tomorrow.

Another country...another adventure.

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