Above: The Niue moorings and one of the spectacular sea caves on Niue
We were delighted to discover that the mooring area just of the west coast of the island was sheltered from the wind and free from swell when we arrived on Tuesday at lunch time. We were met ashore by two customs and immigration officials for a very easy clearing-in process and then went into the 'city' of Alofi to the Niue Yacht Club whose local members don't have yachts but work tirelessly to look after the needs of visiting boats. It's they who have provided 20 very good and well-maintained moorings in the deep and coral-strewn water, where anchoring would be perilous, and the NYC 'clubhouse' is the downstairs 'lounge' of a backpackers' hostel. Their website www.niueyachtclub.com gives more information.
Niue is about 4 times the size of Raratonga, with a coast road of 62km in circumference, and geologically unlike any island we've seen before. It's known locally as 'The Rock' and is built of porous limestone, with no lakes or streams but lots of caverns and caves; it's pretty flat with the highest point only 69m above sea level. The water surrounding it is incredibly clear so there is good snorkelling in the many little coves; well-marked 'Sea Tracks' lead you down to amazing caves where ropes are provided to allow access.
The island has a tiny population of 1200 as many families left after the devastating cyclone Hattie in 2004 (waves of up to 100ft were reported) so there are lots of deserted houses and it's hard to see how this self governing state (its tiny parliament has 20 MPs who elect the Premier and 3 Ministers) without substantial aid from New Zealand. During the 5-month tourist season (June to November) a weekly plane from NZ brings in about 160 tourists and a supply ship arrives every month or so to replenish the shops. Each year about 120 yachts visit (we are number 105 this season).
We hired a car yesterday (a people carrier called, rather wonderfully, a Mazda Bongo Friendee) and did a little tour up the north west coast with Heidi and Peter. It's a bit like driving in the outer isles of Scotland as the driver of every car you meet (not that many, to be honest) gives you a little lift-one-finger-from-the-steering–wheel wave and everyone seems delighted to welcome you. Today we'll continue the exploration with good walking shoes and snorkelling gear so will add some photos to the blog tomorrow.
It looks as though the easterly wind is nicely settled for the next week or so which means that we won't have to leave in a hurry. The moorings become very uncomfortable in a westerly wind and landing ashore becomes impossible so we'll keep a careful eye on the forecast.