Sunday, September 2, 2012

Around and Up and Down the Country of Niue

It has been a very busy few days here at Niue. They claim this is the place to come for true relaxation because there isn't much to do and there is little "connection" to the outside world because of slow internet and limited phone service. In fact, the island nation has no ATM machines and very few places use VISA because they have such poor communication capabilities. But somehow, we have managed to pack our days with non-stop action.

On Thursday, we rented a car with Ivan and Louise from the sailboat Brio. They are Australians and we have had radio contact with them on the "Drifters Net" for quite some time and we finally met them here. We started at 0800. The day always starts with an adventure here because to get your dinghy ON shore requires lifting it with the crane. We have decided that rowing was too difficult in the heavy wind and swell, so we are putting our old inflatable to the test lifting it out daily with its engine attached. So far so good.

We get the car and start around the island. Niue has done a really nice job with clear maps and good signage. Signs at every site clearly explained the significance of the area as well as gave great info like difficulty of the walk and how long it would take. Our first stop was Ana'ana Point. A great viewpoint overlooking the southwest side of the island. Here we saw some humpback whales in the water. Next stop was Avatele, a little protected cut into the sea where there is a small beach and the famous "Washaway Cafe." This is opened only on Sundays and is the only "self-service" bar in the Pacific.

The road then took us around the southern part of the island to the village of Hakupu and the Anapala Chasm. You walk down 155 steps carved into the rock with, thankfully, a strong rope railing. It is a chasm that has a fresh water pool at the bottom. Fresh water! We all took a swim in this dark, very cold water surrounded by steep rocks cliffs on both sides with just a little light seeping into the holes or edge along the top. It was much deeper than it looked and you couldn't touch bottom except at either end. This is a spot where the royalty were annointed. The climb back up the stars was welcome as a "warm-up." after the refreshingly cool swim.

Along the drive there were many abandoned homes – and we aren't certain if this is a result of the decline in population on the island or the destruction of Cyclone Heta in 2004 which devastated this country. The other unusual site are the tombs that seem to be everywhere. Instead of a central churchyard/cemetery, there are single or multiple family tombs along the side of the road. Many are like little roadside attractions with roofs, fences, elaborate headstones and lots of decorations (whirly-gigs, flowers, candles, necklaces, household goods). They are everywhere.

After going through several villages, we came to Togo Chasm (pronounced Tong-oh). This was an unbelievable place and probably our favorite of the day. You first walk through the bush which is a mix of hardwood trees, palm trees and low brush (looking for uga along the way) and reach and area of jagged coral pinnacles that seem to rise out of the ground like a strange garden. There are interesting formations, natural arches and a very ragged landscape. As you trek along these coral pinnacles, you'll see a group of palm tree tops. Then you come upon a beautiful sandy beach surrounded by rocks and a grove of palm trees. You descend thanks to the help of a long wooden ladder and get to the beach. You then can climb over more rocks to a fresh water pool at the other end. This water was a bit green – so we chose not to swim here. But, while in the palm grove, Michael broke open a big coconut (having learned the technique in Moorea) and we all got a god sip of coconut water and fresh coconut. We trekked back. It was a more challenging walk – but not that difficult. Now it was lunch and we'd look for a good "Sea Track" or viewpoint to enjoy our picnic. All around the island there are these areas called "Sea Tracks" which are spots on the edge of the island you can get to to explore tide pooling or simply walk on the rocks to little beaches. Each seemed very different than the next one – some had caves and natural arches, others had great chasms cut through the bottom f the rock creating strange gurgling noises as the water came in underneath. We stopped at a few and walked down to them They are all well maintained and almost all had a small picnic table, some had barbecue grills, others had restrooms...all very well designed and clean.

We found one of these sea tracks and had lunch. Then continued on the tour of more sea tracks, a small strange "recycled" sculpture park, through small villages. It was getting late and we were "thirsty" so we looked for a place to stop. There are not many stops on the windward(eastern) side of the island – once away from Alofi, the main village. But we did see a sign for Matapa Bar. We went down this road and asked a local who was painting an old metal container (like the ones that deliver goods off big ships). He told us we were at the bar – it was his house. He said it was open and he stopped painting and got out an table and chairs and brought us cold beers. He sat with us and we found out he was a MP - member of the country's parliament (as well as a "house painter" and quite well-traveled. He had some good stories and we enjoyed some time learning about the island country from him.

Unfortunately after a beer and a tiring day of treking and swimming, we were all starting to fade. So we headed by a few other stops to just check out the sights – but in many of them we needed to be at low tide (which was much earlier). It was a full day and we still had to relaunch our dinghy via the crane.

On Friday, we got up very early to go to the vegetable market. It runs from 0600 to about 1100. But we were told if you don't get there early they won't have any veggies left. Well, we were there (at the market) by 0630 and there wasn't a veggie to be found. Lots of homebaked goods, some crafts, uga (coconut crabs), and a big social scene. Luckily while standing there talking to some locals, a truck pulled up with a late farmer and I was able to score some bok choy and green beans. Then a woman who is a local caterer and restauranteur took pity on us and sold us some of the stuff she already purchased (some cukes) and we found a bag of small local tomatoes. Everything though is VERY expensive – for example a cucumber (very big) was $5. The small bag of tomatoes was $5 as was the small bag of greens and greens beans. It seems $5 is the magic number and it wasn't just the price for foreigners – but the locals were also paying the same. Ouch. Michael then hiked to get the propane tank we dropped off the previous day that needed filling and got a ride back from Pauline, the friendly tourist bureau lady. Every time we are walking it seems people will stop and ask if you want a ride. Later on Friday we walked back to town to explore a few more sights and sea tracks. We enjoyed tide pooling on one at the perfect time of day – seeing all kind of weird sea worms, eels, fish and coral along with the dramatic caves, caverns and pinnacles of the rock formations.

We treated ourselves to very tasty ice cream in an old fishing boat converted to an ice cream shop.

Unfortunately the anchorage is wide open and there is little protection from swells. The seas have been high enough that we get a good rock and roll going while on the mooring ball. This has meant for little sleep and what you get is quite uncomfortable,

Today, we went to a villages' "show"day – but we'll save that for the next entry.

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