Discovering a truly special place is one of my favorite aspects of this nomadic seafaring life. We recently sailed from French Polynesia to the compact island nation of Niue, spent five nights in Niue and loved every minute of our short visit there!
I hadn’t even heard of Niue a few months ago, and that’s not surprising. Most of its visitors and many of its residents hail from New Zealand. However small, Niue is an impressive country. It left its mark on us!
Niue, which means “Behold the Coconut,” is pronounced Nyoo-Ay.
Niue is a ruggedly beautiful country in the South Pacific Ocean. Itis defined by dramatic high cliffs, which we could see as we approached by boat. This explains why Niue is also known as the Rock of Polynesia.
For sailors, Niue has one safe bay on the western side of the island near the town of Alofi. The bay is very deep almost right next to shore (the cliffs), so Niue’s yacht club installed moorings for boats to tie to for their stay. We were one of the first boats there after several years of Covid lockdowns, so it was exciting for us and the people of Niue!
Niue’s population is less than 1,600, and they live in 5 municipalities spread over 260 square km. One of the best things about Niue is its people. After a year surrounded by Polynesians speaking French (and Marquesan and Tahitian), we were taken by surprise to be greeted by Polynesians speaking English with a Kiwi accent! And we were greeted by everyone who saw us in Niue.
We were among the first 20 boats to visit their island in three years since Covid. So we stood out and were made to feel very welcome.
The nicest people in the world live in Niue. In just a few days, we got used to stopping to chat with people we walked by, saying yes or no to the many offers of rides along the road, and waving and smiling to everyone else.
Niue Cultural Festival
We were fortunate to be in Niue for their first annual cultural festival. Groups representing many of the nationalities that live on Niue each performed at least one song representing the country of their home or ancestors. It was great to see how multicultural this small nation is. We watched song and dance performances from groups standing in for New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, The Philippines, China, and even a joint Canada-US team.
Sailing To Niue
You can only get to Niue one of two ways: flying from New Zealand, or by boat. Unfortunately, we arrived on our boat and it wasn’t fun.
Worst Trip Ever
Our sail from Mopelia in western French Polynesia took seven days and was one of our worst trips yet. We tried to plan as best we could, with weather and wind forecasts, and consultation with the other boaters in the bay. Only a few hours after leaving Mopelia, a squall hit us and lasted for several hours. High winds, rough seas, and pouring rain battered us. We even had a huge wave wash into the cockpit and down the stairs into our cabin, soaking us and everything else it touched.
Well that ended and things calmed. We even had smooth seas on Sunday.
It didn’t last. We still had to face our worst 24 hours in over four years sailing Sava. Yes, a storm that lasted almost 24 hours hit us halfway between Mopelia and Niue. If you don’t know where that is you are not alone. We were in the middle of nowhere with winds averaging in the high 30s and the rain was dumping. That was a rough day and the night was worse.
We spent most of that night sitting wide awake waiting for it to end. We couldn’t do much else. That night, we ate potato chips for dinner because that was the best I could do.
Fortunately days like that are not common. We can avoid them and plan around them. But when you’re in the middle of nowhere partway through a seven day passage, there’s no escape. We waited it out.
Being in Niue was like a reward for the arduous trip there. We are so glad we visited and got to spend five nights in Niue, although we would have preferred more time.
Things to Do
As we were staying in the bay near Alofi, we explored a lot of that town in our five nights in Niue. Keith from the Niue Yacht Club and his wife Sue took all the cruisers on a driving tour of some of the best spots in Niue, and otherwise we walked everywhere. So even though we had a brief visit to this island, we saw a lot, enough to highly recommend it.
shopping in niue
It was interesting to be in our first new country in a year, checking out the stores and different merchandise on sale.
We were excited to visit the liquor store and sample New Zealand beers, wines and a cider! Aside from wine, liquor and beer are very expensive in French Polynesia, and here we had reasonably priced gin, bourbon and more. We didn’t go overboard, but like most of our friends who’ve stopped in Niue, we regret not buying more of that cider.
On top of that, the supermarket sold cheddar cheese, canned soups and some other foods we hadn’t seen in a while. Not complaining about the food in French Polynesia, but sometimes we miss things.
going out to eat and drink
One of our favorite things about our first day in Niue was hanging out in the sports bar with other cruisers and the locals! We were back in a country where it’s normal for the locals to go out.
One thing that we didn’t realize early enough was that eateries close on both Saturday and Sunday. We tried a few restaurants despite these constraints.
One of our favorite restaurants in Niue served Indian food. Neither of us could remember the last time we’d had Indian, and Vanilla Cafe served us good curry and rotis. After seven days at sea it was nice to have someone else cook and clean.
The only restaurant we could find open for lunch on Saturday turned out to be a good spot. Crazy Uga’s was busy but we got a table overlooking our boats in the bay and dug into some sandwiches and fish and chips, with some Kiwi beers, of course.
Niue Tourist Attractions
We jammed a lot of activities into our five nights in Niue, partially thanks to Keith and Sue driving our group of sailors around swaths of the island. It’s a naturally beautiful place, perfect for people who like outdoor activities. We visited caves and swimming holes, scuba dove and hiked, and learned some of the island’s history. Here are some of our top sites in Niue.
Niue is marked by limestone cliffs and the bay is very deep. As a result, islanders have devised a unique way of getting onto and off the island by boat. It’s different from anywhere else we’ve stayed on our boat. It looks a little daunting at first, and we did have to set up a harness in the dinghy, but it was fun to operate the crane. They’ve uses this crane for years and for much larger and heavier boats than ours. We went to the dock a lot during our five nights in Niue, and the process of lifting the dinghy got easier but was still fun.
hiking and sea tracks
Niue is full of beautiful walking trails, many along the coast called sea tracks. There are many of these scattered around the island. We were on guard because rough seas or high tides can make parts of these walks dangerous, because waves could wash over the paths.
We did an inland hike from the museum to the supermarket which was partially shaded for the first half and then fully exposed to the sun for the second. It was nicer than walking on the road, even though people always offered us rides on the road.
Small but packed, this one-room museum about Niue’s history and culture featured artifacts like decades of local crafts and fishing and boating gear. We especially appreciated the old photos, including ones from 100 years ago when the set-up to get boats into and out of the water was exactly the same!
Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the Niue Museum. You’ll have to go yourself.
diving in niue
Niue is a safe place, except for the sea snakes! So naturally, we had to go diving with them. Well, truly we wanted to go diving there because Niue is known for its excellent visibility, with crystal clear water. Plus we saw dolphins swimming around the bay and we’ll take any chance to see dolphins.
The snakes are poisonous, but we were assured they have no interest in us. We went on two dives in Niue and when the snakes started following me, I got a little nervous. It all worked out fine, and we did two hour-long dives, exploring crevasses and caverns, and enjoying the excellent visibility. The snakes are cool to watch too.
Speaking of caves, Niue has a lot! The ones we saw were along the coastline, so many were at least partly full of water.
Some were adjacent to beautiful swimming pools, and we were able to dip into some. With all the cliffs and rock, Niue is not an island of beaches. We quite liked the adventure of hiking along sea tracks and into caves to swimming spots.
We were surprised that such a tiny nation has so many geocaches. I guess it follows with all the outdoor adventure activities that these would be hidden around the island. We only had time to find a couple in our five nights in Niue. It was fun!
I hope you enjoyed reading about our five nights in Niue. Have you even heard of it before? If so, I bet you’re from New Zealand, or a sailor.