Fakaalofa lahi atu! Welcome to Niue!
Where in the world is that, I might hear you ask? Well, until last year, I’d never even heard of this place. That is until a wonderful friend of mine told me she was packing up and moving there to live! Shanny is the bubbly, tell-it-how-it-is, kick-ass lady behind the fantastic travel blog ‘Rebel & Roam‘ and since moving to this remote island in the South Pacific has been encouraging me to pay it (and her) a visit. After scrolling through her Instagram feed in awe and reading a post about her new island life, it wasn’t long before I had booked a ticket!
Niue (pronounced New-Aye) is a teeny, tiny little island in the centre of a triangle of Polynesian islands (Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands) and only around a 3 hour flight from Auckland, New Zealand. I remember checking the in-flight map on our way over and pointed out to Christian that it looked like we were set to land in the middle of the ocean, Niue so small it didn’t show on the screen. Arriving at the Niue International Hanan Airport, their tarmac shines a bright white, made out of the islands own special concrete mix – it makes for quite a striking entrance against the green tree tops and blue sea. The airport itself is smaller than some homes back in Australia, and it would have to be one of the only places in the world, where upon going through customs, we were able to write ‘Shanny’s House’ as our address during our stay!
One thing we noticed almost right away on this small island is that there is no advertising! No banners, no billboards and no flashy signs – whiteboards at the visitors centre listing the annual events going on is about as far as it goes! This was so absolutely refreshing, after leaving our home that is littered with advertisements as far as the eye can see.
It is easily the smallest country I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting, with just 123km (76 miles) of paved roads, you can drive around the entire island in just a couple of hours. A rather unique place, Niue is in fact a large upraised coral atoll. Because of this, there are no rivers that flow out into the ocean, meaning there is no run off to create any silt thus resulting in incredibly clear ocean waters that have around 80-100 metres visibility. The entire island is dotted with a myriad of caves and rocky coves (some of which are yet to be explored!), as well as around 6000 acres of what remains of the Huvalu Rainforest.
Currently, only around 1,600 people live on the island (after Cyclone Heta (2004) saw many of the islands 6000 residents leave) and it is not yet a well known tourist destination. This fact, combined with the islands isolation and coral make up, mean that you can explore the rugged coastline and reef with barely another soul in sight. Swap crowded beaches that stretch on for miles for intimate swimming coves and small sandy shores that you can have all to yourself. Niue is also one of the worlds safest destinations, with crime almost unheard of and no harmful animals or insects! Chickens run the island, and also your sleeping patterns (at least until you get used to them). Roosters would crow at regular intervals from as early as 1.30am, driving this vegetarian to think some pretty awful things in the wee hours of each morning! Dogs roam about the streets, many of which are quite friendly, with the odd stray cat found amongst the bushes on our walks.
Should you decide to explore the island on foot, you might find that locals will stop and offer you a lift. Although something usually strongly advised against while abroad, in Niue, it’s perfectly okay to jump on in! Niueans are very welcoming people – they are genuinely friendly to visitors (especially if you take a keen interest in their culture), knowing that tourism is an important component to their economy. They are bilingual, speaking both Niuean and English, and enjoy a very independent lifestyle. Community and culture is at the heart of their daily lives as is their worship: Sunday is a respected day of rest, with most people attending church in the morning and afternoon, meaning that many places are closed for the day. This isn’t too much of an issue however, seeing that so much of what there is to do on this island is outdoors and in the water. Bearing in mind that certain activities such as boating and fishing are not allowed on this day, many people will play golf, go hiking or enjoy a dip in the ocean!
Being a tropical island, temperatures are fairly warm throughout the calendar year. Summer is from December – February with the average temperature around 28° Celsius (December through March are also the hurricane months) and winter from June – August (temperatures still reaching as high as 24°, with cooler nights). If you’re looking for a once in a lifetime opportunity to dive with whales, August is the best month to visit.
If your stay is less than 30 days, there is no requirement for a visa. Be sure to keep aside $34NZD for your departure tax at the airport when you leave.
Definitely something you won’t find on your way through the airport, visitors instead have a duty free allowance that they can use at the local bond store, for alcohol and cigarettes. The store has three package options available and you have a few days after arriving to use this up. We used this to purchase drinks for our stay, but if you’re purchasing to take home with you, make sure you are aware of the limits that apply to what you bring in with you at your destination.
The New Zealand Dollar is the accepted currency on the island. I would suggest cash as the best method of payment during your stay, as there are only a small number of businesses that have Eftpos available and no ATMs (however you can withdraw cash out at some stores when making a purchase, such as Swanson’s & the Bond Store).
Shanny told us about a charter bus that has recently been in operation on the island, however it doesn’t run often and so isn’t the most reliable mode of transport. You can hire scooters or bikes, however we found the best way to get around was by car (especially with the state of some of the roads). We were lucky enough to loan our friends during our stay, however there are several rental companies on the island that you can hire vehicles from. The speed limit is 40km/h in villages and 60km/h on open roads, driving on the left-hand side. In order to drive, you will need to obtain a Niuean drivers licence (this also makes for a rather novelty souvenir to take home!). You can do this at the Niue Police Department in Alofi for a small fee, so long as you can present a valid licence from your home country. Oh, and have your hands ready to give a friendly wave to everyone you pass on the road!
Where to Eat
There are quite a few options for both dining out and getting your own food supplies. If dining out, bear in mind that Niue is only a small place and so restaurants can’t afford to be open all the time. Because of this bookings are highly recommended to avoid any disappointment. In the islands capital Alofi you’ll find cafes such as the Crazy Uga (Oonga), Falala Fa Café and Bar and Jenna’s Restaurant. An incredible Japanese restaurant (that also serves up New York style pizzas) Kaiika is along the main road, with a great little Indian spot ‘Gill’s Indian Restaurant & Take Away‘ at the commercial centre in town which does some delicious vegetarian roti (these make for an excellent lunch on the go). A few towns over at Avatele, you’ll find the Scenic Matavai Resort, whose restaurant is open to both guests and the public. They have a restaurant up top on the main deck and also a pool bar below, offering up dishes such as open sandwiches, pizza, salads, nachos and more. If you decide to relax and dine by the pool, be sure to have John whip you up one of his delicious cocktails! Monday nights at 6pm the Matavai have a live uga show, while on Thursdays provide a spit roasted buffet and fire show.
On Sundays, you can head to the Washaway Café and Bar for a BBQ cooked by local ex-pats as you dine beachfront at OneOnePata (Avatele) Beach. This spot is also possibly the last honesty bar to exist in the world so is definitely worth a visit! For your own supplies, you can head to Swansons, which is the local ‘supermarket’. They have all of your basic food and hygiene supplies as well as freshly baked bread and sandwiches. Just next door to here you’ll find the Bond Store for all of your duty free needs. For the best baked goods on the island, including the most delicious custard-filled donuts you’ll have, wake up early and head to Rockbak Bakery in Alofi. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday mornings, it’s first in, best dressed here (some of the locals have standing orders) so you’ll have to get in quick! For a full list of dining options, visit the Niue website here.