I have just returned to Auckland after my week in Niue and still can't really comprehend everything I saw. Niue is not a part of the Cook Islands, but rather is a self governed nation in free association with New Zealand. That pretty much means that they do their own thing, but still rely on New Zealand for a lot of aid. The island is 260 square kilometers, and is not the typical South Pacific island. There are no sandy beaches and thus the reason why it's not a typical tourist destination.
Niue has a population of 1500 people, but there are about 20 000 Niueans living and working in other places around the world. This is mainly to do with the lack of jobs on the island itself. Niue is a raised coral shelf that sticks up out of the ocean which earns it the nickname "Rock of Polynesia". The entire coastline of Niue consists of steep coral cliffs shooting straight up out of the ocean, thus the lack of beaches. Since Niue is so small there are only 100 rooms for accomodation on the island, and estimates say that Niue only sees about 2000 tourists a year. This
Typical Niue "beach"
creates a completely unique atmoshpere on the island due to the fact that locals know tourism is important for their economy, yet the tourism numbers are still small enough that the locals are genuinely happy to see travellers. It is far and away the most friendly place I have ever been.
There is only one flight a week that goes to Niue, and shortly after the plane landed I met a guy from Iowa who was staying at the same guesthouse as me. It turned out we were the only two there in a huge house. After getting settled Saturday we woke up Sunday and went to church. Niue has a very strong church prescence and Sunday is a day for quiet. No fishing or swimming, and nothing of any other sort.
I could write forever about what we did and saw all week, but it would take forever. I'll sum it up as briefly as I can. The pictures and stories will be better in person. We went to the Niue police station and both got a driver's license and then went and rented motorcycles. We then spent time checking out anything and everything on the island.
A lot of the highlights of the island are caves and chasms of ancient coral reef. You can imagine what coral reef looks like underwater, now just imagine the same thing thrust up out of the ocean. It makes for amazing hiking with caves, tunnels, cliffs and small caverns where ocean water pools to make natural swimming pools. Generally everyday we would have an idea of a location we would go to, and then stop at any sign along the way. Sights were generally only labelled by a sign with a name. We would have to walk/hike the trail to see what was at the end of it. This could be anywhere from 5 minutes to see a calm cave where the ocean meets the coral, or it could be a 2 hour trek through rainforest and ancient coral shelves to reach the coastline.
Everything that I saw on the island was unique in more than one sense. Whether it was arches, caves, cliffs, pools or any combination of each, there was always something special at each location. It was not a case of seeing something new and thinking it was special. It was moreso seeing something, and feeling
deep down a sense of wonder at what was before me. To add to the feeling was the fact that no matter where we went there were no other travellers. No footprints, no signs and no changes to make it tourist friendly. Every sight was natural the way it was. There was a special feeling to hiking to a natural pool that would be on any person't dream vacation list, and have no other people there for the whole day. Having the motorcycles was about as perfect as could be, since we were able to explore the island at our own pace. Along with being friendly, the island is perhaps the most safe place in the world. Crime is unheard of. Every passing vehicle would wave at us as we drove by. It was laid back island life to the extreme.
With some exploring everyday, mixed with trying restaurants at night, the week in Niue was probably the greatest travel experience I have ever had. The uniqueness of the island, the people, the nature made it a complete lifetime experience. To think that Niue is unheard of and overlooked for travel due to the fact that it has no
beaches seems odd, yet, having been there, I like the fact that tourism is quite low. Niue maintains all the charm that is has ever had and a traveller quickly becomes a part of the island.
When I was on the plane going to Niue the lady next to me asked how I had heard of "them". By them she meant Niue and it's people. I told her that I had saw it in a book and wanted to visit. She smiled and told me that she wasn't going to tell me anything about the island. She said that I just had to get out and explore it and find things out for myself. I can completely see why she said this. Exploring Niue goes down as a highlight of my life and I have officially added to the tiny list of places that I would be willing to go back to in the future. I generally won't go back somewhere that I have already been because there is so much new to see, but Niue is so different and so special. I'll be able to better explain it when I'm home. It's just a small island where small
island life is the way. As one example, on one night at a restaurant our waitress/restaurant owner was the deputy premier and she was currently running the country (during the day). We joked with her about getting Obama on the line to discuss the economy and she joked that she would advise him to just print more money. The whole week consisted of small moments like that and have to this point left me amazed at what I have experienced. All from a place the most people on the world have never heard of...
Tomorrow I fly to the Cook Islands for a week in a typical South Pacific destination. Sun and sandy beaches. About time too, I think I deserve a vacation....
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