Monday, October 22, 2018

Niue, the rock of the pacific

29th September –3rd October 2018

1-DSCN4958“Fakaalofa Lahi Atu, Welcome to Niue”, That’s what the tourist brochure says. Niue, a territory of New Zealand, is yet another spec in the south pacific as we journey further west across this vast horizon of blue. It is nicknamed “the rock” for reasons that become apparent once you see the place in daylight. Measuring roughly twelve miles by ten it is a low island made completely from jaggered volcanic rock on which 1500 people call home.

Our three night  passage from Palmerston in the Cook Islands was yet another mixed bag of weather and not all favourable. We made two attempts to sail down to Beverage Reef but with the wind angle all wrong we gave up and continued straight on to Niue. Arriving into an anchorage at night is not usually what we do, however we had no choice in the matter here. Rounding the southern point of the island the port of Alofi came into view. The dock area was lit up like a Christmas tree as the tri-yearly cargo ship was ablaze with lights that shone out over the mooring field. Following the lead lights in towards the town wharf, our powerful spot light picked up the two lines of day glow orange mooring balls with reflective tape. We headed over and tied ourselves to a ball. It was twenty five minutes after mightnight, time to cook dinner.

33-PA035805Daylight came too early for us but up we got  bleary eyed when our vhf radio burst into life. Niue radio was calling us to meet customs on the dock at 10am. Our first challenge of the day apart from waking up was to get to the dock.


Here in Alofi you don’t just sidle up to the dock and tie up your dinghy. Oh no, no, no. This place is an open roadstead  and with the swell wrapping around the wharf it’s mandatory that all dinghies and fishing vessels be taken out of the water via a small crane. This is a tricky and scary maneuver for the first time novice. You need to be all set up with a four-point bridle  arrangement to hoist the dinghy before you arrive at the dock and then be fleet of foot to attach the crane to said bridle and bail out before the swell overtakes you and you get a good soaking. It’s an adrenaline pumping moment'.



Luckily we already have a bridle permanently attached to our dinghy as this is how we lift it back onto GWTW after an outing. Then with one person operating the crane, the other guides the now airborne dinghy onto the awaiting dolly. One you’ve got that down pat it’s a piece of cake. We watched on as another dinghy went skywards as their bridle slipped and the outboard and dinghy dangled vertically over the water.


Waiting on the dock were the customs officials who no doubt have a good chuckle at the antics of the newbies in town. With forms filled in and no monies to be paid until departure we decided to stretch our legs and checkout the town. First stop was the bank, after all we needed some NZ dollars in case we found something of interest. Town was pretty low key, a few restaurants and cafes, the tourist center and a couple of small grocery stores. It didn’t take long to breeze through.

1-PA035807In  company with Ken and Isabell from “Aquarius” we ventured further afield to the outskirts of town until we found the new Swans supermarket with the crab outside, and customs bond store which had both relocated to opposite the bowling club. Both were a real find.

The supermarket is stocked high with NZ products and the bond store, well we were in heaven. NZ wines, beers and liquor's all at duty free prices, and as much as we wanted to purchase on the day of arrival and again on the day of departure. So we bought up big after being in French Polynesia where you need to take out a mortgage to afford a bottle of half decent wine. As an added bonus the store delivered us and our booty free of charge to the dock.


Not wanting to sit idle on a Sunday, when nothing in town is open except the Indian restaurant, which temporarily doubles as the Niue Yacht Club and the telecom office open 24/7, we decided to organize a car for two days so the four of us could explore the island.

09-P9305692Over the two days our road trip took us to pretty much all the main sites. We followed the sea tracks (trails) down to impressive limestone caves , rock pools and chasms. Sparkling swimming holes enticed us into the clear waters and winding paths delivered rock arches that mother nature has sculptured just perfect for sitting and pondering.



10-P9305700We stopped for lunch at a few miles north of Alofi at the Hilo beach café, a trendy Sunday eatery housed in a shipping container with a fabulous view over the ocean and then again for a late dinner at the beachfront Washaway café.


24-P9305772Open only on Sunday, cash only, the later was unusual in the fact that it has a self serve bar with an honesty book to write down what you drink and an order book to fill in your choice of meal. Both places were chockers.

26-PA015778Day two, we headed over to the east side of the island. More caves were explored and an oasis found after traversing a weather beaten  skinny path through a fairytale like area of lava pinnacles. Climbing down the steep Togo Chasm wooden ladder was not for the faint hearted. White sands and palm trees graced this little patch of element protected rock formations after stepping off the last rung. It was definitely worth the effort to find this unusual sight.


One rather strange sight that we often saw during our travels were  the many and varied grave sites along the roadside. They  just seemed to be scattered randomly around. Some with headstones, not many were unmarked. We asked the reason behind this and were told that  family members are buried on family land so as to be close to those still alive no matter where it is located. That can be in the front yards of a home, a veggie field or just along the side of the road. Some graves are lavish whilst others are not.


Our final day was spent clearing out with customs, who generously picked us up from the dock to complete the paperwork at head office, hitting the bond store one more time, purchasing a few delicacies like meat pies, yogurts and ice cream and having a feed of fish and chips before one last snorkel around the reefs in the anchorage.


Although our stay in Niue was rather brief we thoroughly enjoyed this little gem of a  country and felt that we’d seen it all. The time had come to point our bows toward Tonga.

38-DSCN4794 (1)

Cruisers Info : Currency is NZ dollars.

Mooring Field : Easy entrance at night, reflective tape on all buoys. Good strong moorings with excellent tackle

Mooring balls: Cost $20 NZ p/day payable the day you leave at the Gili's Indian restaurant in the town square next to Telecom.

Checkout fees: $ 80 p/person plus a one time fee of $25 for rubbish disposable

Internet: available from Telecom office for $5 p/hour or at the internet café, but don’t know the price. Also one internet provider gives a one hour free trial

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Saturday, October 20, 2018

A pit stop at Palmerston Atoll, Cook Islands

20th- 26th September 2018

05-DSCN4754We had the anchor up and were at the Maupihaa pass by 0930. The sea looked flat calm, but  looks can be deceiving as we were still in the lee of the island. As we had a fair idea of what was lurking a few miles further out we reefed down the mainsail to the final reefing point and unfurled just half of our jib in readiness for the heavy weather that awaited us.

A whale sauntered past the entrance just as we rocketed out at a speed of nine knots courtesy of the current that roars out of the lagoon, We watched with delight as the whale’s massive tail disappeared beneath the waves.


Five hundred and forty miles and three nights at sea lay ahead of us until we would arrive at the atoll of Palmerston in the Cook Islands. The forecast  was not brilliant and predicted strong winds and big seas, but if we didn’t hit the road today we ran the risk of the wind dying completely and having to motor for the entire passage.

By one thirty that afternoon we were in the clutches of mother nature and she was not a happy girl. The wind increased to over 20 knots with gusts hitting 30 and the waves sat tall at 3-4 metres. The conditions were  very rough and uncomfortable. About the only saving grace was that we had a full moon to light the way.


By day’s end on the second night it seemed that she who must be obeyed was starting to calm down and the washing machine ride was all but over. Come 0900 day three the wind had vanished so down came the sails and on went the motor with just thirty six miles to run to the finish line.


It was Sunday so it didn’t matter what time we arrived as Sunday is a day of rest in Palmerston and therefore no formal clearance  into the country would be done until tomorrow. So we  picked up one of the seven mooring balls available and hit the hay for a well earned long snooze.


There are three routes to choose from to get to the Cook Islands and the   remaining western Pacific from French Polynesia, You can choose the north, which normally takes boats to Suwarrow, Penrhyn and onto Samoa, the south which sees you heading for  Rarotonga, the capital of the cooks or the straight up the guts middle route depending on your planned destination.

For better or for worse we choose the middle one and survived the route that has been given the unfortunate name in the cruising guides as “the dangerous middle!“ due to often unpredictable weather conditions where the south east trade winds converge with the equatorial easterly winds . This route leads you to the spec in the ocean named Palmerston.

Palmerston has a very interesting history. For starters it is the only piece of tera firma throughout the the entire Cook Islands group on which Cpt James Cook ever set foot. He first sighted the Cooks in 1774 and returned  in 1777 and made landfall here.

7-P9245554Then in 1862 a Lancashire lad named William Masters from England, along with his three Polynesian wives he picked up from from Penrhyn Island settled on Palmerston. Over the coming years William fathered 26 children. He divided the atolls and reefs so that each of the three families could live on separate atolls around the Palmerston lagoon. He also established very strict laws regarding intermarriage and decreed that all his descendants speak english. Known as the “Father” of Palmerston to this day, his law and decree still stands, as does his original home built from  timber washed ashore from the many ships that have come to grief on the reefs surrounding this tiny spec in the vast South Pacific Ocean.

06-P9235443Monday morning was a busy time for the island’s officialdom as five yachts needed to be checked in including two superyachts, Shamana a 100 ft swan design and Drumbeat, a 170 ft ketch. By the time our turn rolled around  it was near midday. Check-in was easy and painless with Arthur the island's administrator acting as customs & immigration officer, Sharon the island’s nurse wearing the hat of health inspector and Goodwell, one of the Masters brothers filling the shoes of bio - security officer. After all was said and done and we parted with  Australian dollars we were officially allowed to go ashore.


When you arrive by yacht, well there is no other way to get there as there is no airstrip or inter-island ferries to the other islands, you are adopted by one of the three families who now live on the atoll, Bob, Edward or Bill Masters The family hosts you during your stay, providing meals ashore each day, laundry if need be and transportation to and from our floating homes.


Depending on how many yachts arrive at the same time a family may adopt two or three vessels. Interacting with your host family and those of the other families we met during our stay was a quite a unique way to learn about their history and their modern day way of life in this isolated community, that are all related one way or another. Shirley and Eddie Masters along with there sons were our host family. Eddie also doubles as the island’s police officer He  had one of his boys ferry the crews of four yachts ashore each day and then he walked us around the island pointing out places of interest along the way.



Palmerston is an extremely neat place. Yards are immaculate. Sand replaces the normal front lawn that we are all used to and it is constantly raked and cleared of palm tree debris. The island’s school, church and cemetery  follow suit. Shady pathways wind beneath palm trees and huge hundred year old mahogany trees planted by the “father” to ensure that his decendents would always have an ample supply of timber.




This is a community who’s  nearest neighbours  are hundreds of miles away. Their only visitors are those of us who cross oceans and not all cruising boats make a point of stopping here. A supply ship calls in once or twice a year if the weather permits, so life here is not easy. This little band of hardy folk rely heavily on the yachts who stop here for basic staples, tools or anything else we can spare including old anchor chain to help tie down their homes during cyclone season.

28-P9245514In recent years the island’s council voted to have a solar farm installed to provide electricity to the homes and school.

Tractors and diggers were shipped  in to complete the task and now that the project is finished this machinery lies idle slowly rusting away in the salt air.

A very slow internet signal has also brought the outside world a little closer as has  satellite television, mind you  there is only one channel available so not much choice of programs, but as Aurther put it, it helps to kill time. And believe me these people have a lot of that on their hands

25-P9245504Will, Eddie our host’s brother in law from NZ is one of three outsiders on the island. The other two are the island’s nurse recruited from Papua New Guinea and Shirley, the school’s sole teacher who hails from Australia. On my walk around the island I met up with Will, an avid gardener who told me that he has started growing vegetables which he shares with the other families.


During our stay he was growing pineapples, cucumbers and vine tomatoes, and his wife was having excellent results from her pumpkin patch. He explained that only certain veggies will grow here because of the ph levels of the soil. I offered him my basil plant but he shook his head saying that no live plants can be imported from anywhere  for fear of bringing disease and that sadly there are only limited seeds available from the capital in Rarotonga. Again life is hard for these folks.





55-P9255584After a stay of three days we figured we’d found out all there was to know about these people who live way off the beaten track at the veritable end of the earth.  It was time to get moving again . Next stop we hoped would be Beveridge reef, weather permitting, or else we’ll be sailing another 425 miles to a rock in the ocean called Niue.


Cruiser Info :  Cook islands official currency is New Zealand Dollars. However in Palmeston, New Zealand dollars, Australian dollars, US dollars and Euros are excepted or a combination of all.

There seven mooring balls available are owned by the three host families The mooring fees are payable to them when leaving. There are no shops ashore and cruisers must retain their garbage on board until the next port .


Check in fees as of September 2018 were as follows:

Mooring Fee: $10 per day (paid in Aus $), Health fee: $20 (paid in NZ $), Customs,Immigration and shore leave combined: $70 ( paid in Aus $)

There is no clearing out fee and you will be given an exit document the day before you depart. Your passport will not be stamped.

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