Niue (pronounced NEW-ay) doesn't seem to go out of its way to self promote. Neither is the word being spread by the 4,000 or so annual tourists (half of which are overseas Niueans returning to visit relatives) who travel just over 3 hours from Auckland, New Zealand on twice weekly flights. By all accounts, the South Pacific's "Rock of Polynesia", situated some 600 kms to the east of its nearest neighbour Tonga, is an unknown and underappreciated destination.
Why this is a so is a mystery, as there is definitely plenty to see and do both in and on the pristine sea waters that surround one of the largest coral atolls in the world. With plenty of unique landscapes to further explore on land, this is definitely one island worth visiting that rewards the adventurous.
So, having experienced some of the best on offer, here is my list, in no particular order, of the top 20 Things to Do In Niue.
1. Wave at the Whales
I'd rate swimming with whales as one of the best things I've ever done, period. I was fortunate to have a magnificent day interacting with whales in Vava'u, Tonga in 2016 and will never forget hearing the male humpbacks whale song, their grace when moving in the water and awe at seeing their acrobatic performances on top of the water. Given Niue is on the same migratory path and is one of few places in the world offering in the water experiences, sharing the water with these fantastic animals in their home environment is something that should be top of anybody's list when visiting Niue.
The whales usually visit Niue between July and October each year. Humpbacks are the most commonly sighted species, although Sei and Sperm Whales are also known to frequent the Niuean waters. As self guided experiences aren't permitted, it is essential that you book with one of the three tour operators. Bear in mind that the minimum age for in the water interactions is 10 years old and you can expect to pay about $150 for a whale experience - payable whether you see any whales or not but worth every penny.
Given the sharp drop-off and depth of ocean close to the fringing reef, whales can also be regularly sighted from as close as 20 metres from shore. Popular whale viewing areas include those at Ana'ana Point or while enjoying a quiet drink at the Scenic Matavai Resort or Oki Oki Mai Clifftop Cafe and Bar.
2. Attend a Church Service
For something more traditionally spiritual, it is worth attending one of the many church services open to visitors on the island. Religion is very important to Niueans and Nukai Peniamina is credited with bringing Christianity to the island via in 1846. Returning to his home village of Mutalau he is said to have been protected by 61 warriors day and night as there were many plots to kill him but eventually succeeded in spreading the word throughout the entire island.
Ekalesia Niue (Congregational Christian Church of Niue - a Protestant church founded by missionaries from the London Missionary Society) has by far the largest church presence on the island with Catholicism and Mormonism the other main religions present.
Church service times vary, but generally start no earlier than 9.30am and are a pleasant way to begin your Sunday. This is an opportunity to see the Niueans decked out in their finest and to hear their lovely singing. As a mark of respect, men should wear long trousers and a collared shirt and women a shirt that covers their shoulders and a knee length skirt.
3. Orientate Yourself on an Island Tour
I'm not a tour guy but taking the Orientation Tour ended up being time and money well spent. There are two tour operators to choose between. One is run by Niue's first High Commissioner to New Zealand, Hima Takelesi, also known as Hima Douglas. Given the dual hats all Niueans seem to wear in order to get things done, having two names seems the easiest way of keeping things straight! The second tour is undertaken by Commodore Keith Vial and his lovely wife Sue. As a visitor to Niue, you are treated to an extremely high calibre of choices!
Whilst not essential, as getting around the island and visiting all the main attractions independently is easy, the tours are great for providing a wealth of historical and more general information. Hima's Toamana Island Discovery Tour provides a lot of laughs, whereas the NOT (Niue Orientation Tour) experience comes with an extremely useful resource pack advising best times to visit each of the attractions (most are tide-dependent). It also includes a flash drive with stock photos for when you just haven't managed to get the right (or any!) picture of the place of interest you've just visited.
Lucky to have a front row seat on the Toamana Island Tour and also by spending an appreciable amount of time with Keith and Sue at various places around the island, I was able to experience the best of both worlds. The ratings and reviews on Trip Advisor also attest strongly to the value of the $70 NOT price.
4. Chase Some Chasms
There are three main chasms situated on the island. Togo (prounced Tongo) and Anapala are located in the southeast and Matapa resides in the opposite corner up in the northeast. For the more adventurous there is also Vaikona Chasm which is only reachable on a guided tour.
It's a toss up between Togo and Anapala Chasm as to which is best. Most people would probably vote for Togo Chasm which has a moderately hard half an hour walk firstly through bush then jagged coral pinnacles to the edge of a chasm. A wooden ladder leads down to a spectacular beach of fine sand and coconut trees in the chasm.
Anapala Chasm offers something completely different. A short walk takes you to 155 steps down to a pool which used to be the main source of fresh water for residents of the surrounding village.
This provides a refreshing (by which I mean cool in both senses of the word) swim and respite from the day's heat. You're probably better off not knowing that I was told there are eels in the water. On my own, in the dark, I don't think I could've dealt with eels but oblivious to their presence, the swim was simply amazing.
Matapa Chasm is the easiest of three main chasms to access and also well worth a visit. Bring your snorkelling gear and enjoy the beauty of what used to be Niue's bathing place for traditional kings.
5. Do the Dolphins
Niue is home to the circus acrobats of the dolphin world, the Spinner dolphin. Known for their energetic leaps out of the sea and tumbling tricks, various operators offer dolphin watching tours with a twist. As the dolphins only like interacting with the boats, you can hang onto the side of the boat as at tows you along to get a feeling for what its like to be part of the pod.
Unfortunately for me, dolphins being wild animals and not on a regular schedule, they didn't show up during my $90 dolphin tour. The next day, however they came out to play and by all accounts it was described as a pretty cool experience.
6. Go Crazy, Go Caving
Due to its topography, Niue is punctuated by hundreds of caves. The best of the lot for those wanting to explore on their own is Palaha Cave.
Palaha Cave has some amazing stalagmites and stalactites in a range of colours that are reasonably easy to access, although the smooth nature can make for a potentially slippery ride, so caution is warranted.
Avaiki Cave is also worth visiting as the place where the first canoe is believed to have landed. Caving enthusiasts should also track down a guided tour via traditional private land to visit Ulupaka Cave which has a vast array of stalactites, stalagmites and pillar formations.
7. Snare a Sea Snake
You won't have to look too hard for sea snakes as they're bound to come find you. Native to Niue, the Katuali is a subspecies of sea krait which is also known as the flat-tail sea snake. Whilst the Katauali might be highly venomous they don't bite humans, although this piece of knowledge didn't make be brick it any less when I saw my first snake swimming towards me in the water.
These banded black-and-white snakes usually hang out in rock formations and as they can't breathe underwater, you'll often see them gliding serenely to the surface for air. They're also easily observable in the rock pools of the fringing reef at low tide.
There are plenty to see when walking along the pools below Oki Oki Mai Clifftop Cafe and Bar. Avatele (pronounced Avasele) Beach is also a popular hangout and just round the corner at the famous diving (and snorkelling) site called Snake Gully, you're also likely to see balled up clusters of them, if that's your thing.
As for me, I'm just as happy taking a few pics and leaving them be as I quite prefer my own personal space without those pesky sea snakes sneaking up on me, thank you very much.
8. Take In Talava Arches
Niue's most recognisable landmark, Talava Arches rewards your 30 minute walk with not one, but three natural arches for your viewing pleasure. Whilst traditionally the area was used to look out for raiding foreign vessels, Talava Arches is now a peaceful place to spend some time watching the waves crash in as the sun slowly disappears.
Best accessed at low tide, when you can get beneath the furthermost arch, this also is a great place for sunset. Be careful of any rogue waves and the onset of darkness however, as it feels very isolated once darkness approaches if on your own.
9. Stuff Yourself Senseless
For such a small place, Niue has a large number of great places to eat.
The one place I genuinely missed out not eating at was Kai Ika Restaurant. Well, that's not quite true, as I did sample their sushi at the NZ High Commission soire for the ARC yachties that were in town the first night I was in Niue, and I can report that these were damned fine.
Owned by an Israeli married to a local Niuean girl and employing a Japanese chef, I was informed on more than one occasion that Kai Ika was the 17th best Japanese restaurant outside Japan. With the amazing wealth of fresh seafood available I'm not prepared to bet against that and the reviews I got back from those who had eaten there (along with my own experience mentioned above), did nothing to dispel this.
Outside of Kai Ika, I found Falala Fa a great place to get the freshest of fish cooked in a range of ways to my liking (also try the Coconut pie, simply divine!) and Crazy Uga did some great cafe style food and half decent coffee (if such a thing is possible with UHT milk!).
The relatively new Hio Cafe run by Tony and Vicki who have just recently arrived from an eight year stint in Dubai, also had some good food with a Niuean twist and the added bonus of being located above one of Niue's few "sandy" beaches.
Those desperate for an Indian curry can also have their culinary needs attended to at Gill's, where the ex-Punjab owners provide food that is OK, but most importantly open, when a lot of other restaurants are shut.
10. Force Yourself to Go Fishing
Never will you have a better excuse to partake in a traditional/cultural activity that requires you to be out on a boat for half a day trolling (in a good non-Internet related way) to your heart's content.
Half day tours cost somewhere between $400 to $550 for a boat that carries 3 to 4 people. I spent some time with three likely lads after their spot of fishing who managed to work their way through a dozen beers each and still managed to find time to catch something like eight more than decent sized fish. Included in their catch were mahi mahi (meaning very strong in Hawaiian), wahoo (also known as ono in Hawaii and peto in the Caribbean) and albacore tuna (also known as longfin tuna).
Unlike many tall fish stories I've heard before, I know these fish existed, as evidenced by two of them being taken into the restaurant's kitchen before being cooked and served up with a fresh garden salad and chips for the princely sum of $15 each! You can't get any fresher than that.
11. Borrow a Book and Yak to Commodore Keith at the Yacht Club
Self titled the Biggest Little Yacht Club in the World, the Niue Yacht Club has to be one of the only yacht clubs in the world where its resident members don't actually own a boat between them (or at least one that is moored at their marina).
Beginning life in 1991 and entirely staffed by volunteers, the Niue Yacht Club is a great place to sit down and have a chat with whoever is manning the desk and get a feel for ex-pat life on Niue. Current Commodore, Keith Vial, is as welcoming a person as you're ever likely to meet and happy to answer any question you might have whether nautical or not (or should I say weather nautical or knot). If you're short of reading material, you can also peruse the library to see if there's anything previously recommended by Best Travel Books that you've been looking for.
Upstairs you'll also find the Niuean Backpackers where $25 a night will find you your own room and for an extra $10 a night your own bathroom thrown in as well. A backpacking establishment as you'd expect it to be, it's great to see the island catering for all budgets.
12. Hunt for Uga
The uga or coconut crab is a local delicacy for Niueans. A species of land hermit crab also known as the robber crab, these arthropods were being sent in such large numbers to New Zealand and Australia (estimates of close to 10,000 per year) that the Niuean government ending up having to ban all exports in order to give the crab a chance to replenish.
Without giving too much away, bait is set overnight for the crabs and then the "hunt" (or maybe the better description "scramble") is on. When you see the front pincers, you'll be glad that there's experts around to manhandle these bloody big crustaceans, which can grow up to 1 metre in length and weigh up to 4 kgs.
There are a number of uga hunting tours on the island. Bev Mokalei seems to be the best known and Taue Uga Tours and A5 Rainforest and Plantation Tour up north in Mutalau also have been recommended. Ask any of the locals about going on an uga hunting trip and they're sure to be able to put you in contact with them.
13. Stop at a Coconut Stop
At three convenient locations around the island, you should, in theory, be able to stop off and quench your thirst with the beautiful refreshing water from the juvenile coconut.
The importance of the coconut to Niue can not be overestimated. The island's name can be broken down into two words – Niu meaning "coconut" and e meaning ‘here’. Put together this is said to represent "see the coconut tree" or the more common interpretation "behold the coconut". This certainly beats Captain Cook's earlier name bestowed on the island - Savage Island.
So, where are these elusive coconut stops you might ask? Well, they're not supposed to be a state secret and indeed signs indicate that they should be in the villages of Makefu, Mutalau and Hakupu. Careful investigation of all three stops, however, yielded not a nut between them.
Given the lack of coconuts on offer at these stops and lacking the skill and resources to scale the trees myself, I had to make do with buying one from Swanson's supermarket.
14. Sample Some Snorkeling
With crystal clear waters, coral reef and plenty of sea life, Niue is a snorkel-lovers playground. There is any number of good snorkeling spots and the locals aren't shy on telling you where they think the best place to snorkel is.
Limu Pools definitely is one of the most scenic and great at mid tide. Amanau (opposite the fish factory to the south of Alofi), Namukulu, Hio Beach and Avaiki Cave all offer great options at low tide. The best place for marine life, however, is at Hikutavake.
I found the snorkelling at Avatele Beach to be very good with sightings of plenty of fish, sea snakes and a stingray, although you do need to be mindful of the strong rip in the channel. Another favourite is the snorkeling by snake gully, where in addition to the sea snakes, a whitetip reef shark made a ghostly appearance before swimming casually away from me.
Whilst the coral colours and variety of fish may not be as vibrant as some other world famous snorkelling spots, only the harshest of critics is likely to come away disappointed.
15. Slow Down and Sit Down With the Setting Sun
There's plenty of viewing spots on the west coast from where you can view a beautiful sunset with your favourite tipple and friends. Vaiolama Cafe and Avatele Beach are great places, but my pick was Oki Oki Mai Clifftop Bar and Cafe right above Tamakautoga Beach.
Drinking a cold Kalaga (Niuean inspired and brewed in Christchurch, New Zealand) while munching on a fish burger watching the sun dip below the horizon reminds oneself just how good life can be. Watching the sky run through a variety of colours accompanied by great company, good simple food and cold brown fizzy stuff made it very hard to drag myself away.
The biggest issue you'll face is forcing yourself to put down your camera or smart phone and simply take in the beautiful sight unfolding in front of you.
16. Neck Some Noni Juice
If you've never heard of Noni before, consider yourself lucky. Noni fruit is the only fruit I know of that can give durian a run for its money, so it should come as no suprise that this fruit also goes by the names vomit fruit and cheese fruit.
The juice of the Noni fruit is promoted as a cure for a number of human diseases and more generally as a tonic. I suppose people figure that anything that tastes or smells this bad must be good for you.
Just smelling the pungent odour of the fruit was enough for me, but there is an organic Noni farm just past the village of Vaiea where you take in a tour. Book through the Niue Tourism Visitor Information Centre.
17. Go Round the Rock
With an area of 269 square metres, Niue is an extremely manageable size. Measuring only 60 km around the island it makes sense to spend at least one day circumnavigating the island to see all the sights.
Hire cars are available from a number of places and can usually be arranged through your accommodation. Given the reasonably spread out nature of the island's attractions, hiring a car for the entire stay also makes perfect sense.
Before heading off, make sure you drop in to the friendly police station in Alofi and pick up a newly minted Niuean drivers license. Valid for one year at a price of $22.50 they look pretty neat.
The road quality leaves a fair bit to be desired, with numerous potholes all the way round the island. The upside of this it that it will ensure you keep to the speed limit of 40 kmph in villages and 60 kmph on the "open road". Bear in mind there's only the one petrol station, which is in Alofi South and you'll need to have the car filled up before dropping it off again.
18. Wash Up at Washaway Cafe
Run by Crazy Willy and his merry men of helpers, Washaway Cafe is one of the few places you'll find in the world that still operates on an honesty system.
Open only on Sunday's at Avatele Beach, the system is simplicity in the extreme. Peruse what's on offer in the drink boxes, pour yourself your favourite tipple, then write in the book your name along with what you've taken. Take in the beautiful surroundings as you consume your beverage of choice and when finished, rinse and repeat. At the end of the night tot up what you've had and pay before you leave.
Washaway Cafe sees a fair amount of traffic both from locals and tourists and is an extremely pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Or more - you are on holiday after all. The boys also cook up some great burgers and fish and chips to save you the effort of going anywhere else. Highly recommended.
19. Make for the Markets
Held on Tuesdays and Fridays at the ungodly hour of 5.30am, the Niuean markets (makete) seem to be as much a chance for a the local ladies to have a gossip than to undertake any meaningful commerce.
Probably about the only thing that gets shifted in any great quantities is the Nane Pia or Niuean porridge. Made from arrowroot and coconut with the consistency of snot, Nane Pia is relatively bland and may leave you wanting something more fulfilling afterwards.
Almost as if aware of this, there is a great little bakery around the corner called The Rolling Pin. Open from around 7.00am and with plenty of pastries on offer straight out of the oven, it almost makes getting up so early worthwhile.
20. Go Directly to Jail
With crime on the island non-existent you wouldn't even think there was need for a jail on the island. But tucked away behind the bowling club beside the 9-hole golf course is Niue's small jail.
On finding it, I wasn't surprised to see it unattended and empty. Speaking later with a policeman, I was told that it was very rarely occupied. In fact, the last time anyone was in it was when one of the locals decided to drive off in a police car after that they'd parked up having been called to a minor disturbance. For his trouble he earnt a week in the klink.
While word is still yet to get out about magical Niue, it won't be too long before it does. Until then, I suppose that just means there's more Niue for those of us in the know, eh?