The tiny Pacific paradise of Niue – three hours north of Auckland – recently had a national crisis. Trevor, the island’s only duck, had run out of water. The roadside puddle he called home, had turned into a patch of dirt.
You see, Trevor is a world-famous mallard (and named after our very own Trevor Mallard). The bird gained media attention far and wide after mysteriously turning up on the island last year. Ducks don’t live in this part of the world; there are no swamps, lakes, or even ponds. Niue is a rock. A very beautiful rock – but no place for ducks.
How had Trevor turned up? Was he blown up from New Zealand on a wind of biblical proportion? Or was he a stowaway on a ship? What is certain: he’s the loneliest duck to ever float. Except, that’s the problem: Trevor wasn’t floating. His home had dried up. He was a pea without his carrot, a macaroni without his cheese.
So the Niue National Fire Service had one of their biggest callouts of recent times: to Trevor’s house. Their mission was simple: fill Trevor’s void. Fill the puddle.
And so, there it was: this big yellow shiny fire truck borrowed from the airport sitting on the side of the road – pumping water into a pothole, to make a puddle.
We’d just arrived in Niue, and were passing ‘the duck sanctuary’ (aka the pothole with water) when I was being told this story. I instantly fell in love with Niue. Except the famous bird was nowhere to be seen. Public Service Warning to Trevor: don’t play peeking duck – it has a different meaning in many parts of the world.
But wait, this little country – which sits between Cook Island and Tonga – gets even better. The next thing I saw was a small lonely building beside a golf course. It turned out to be the prison. Nobody knows where the key is – because there isn’t any crime. Once, a few years ago, someone was in the slammer. They didn’t use the key – the prisoner could play golf during the day, they just had to put themselves to bed at night. How could I not love this county any more?
Well, it turns out I can – I was missing the best part: its outstanding beauty. Niue is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the biggest raised coral atolls in the world; that means it doesn’t have your traditional sandy beaches. Instead, it has rock pools of gargantuan proportion, a crack in the Earth that forms a stunning swimming spot, a secret sand oasis, and an elaborate series of caves that reveal shimmering turquoise pools. Not to mention its world-renowned deep sea fishing.
And get this: while most of the world grapples with over-tourism, Niue doesn’t. There are just 1500 people on the island – it’s one of the smallest countries on Earth – and there are only two flights a week from Auckland. That means 10 per cent of the island is on the flight with you, and only around 300 people can come and go each week. That’s it. There are no crowds, no queues, no traffic lights, no crime. Just lots of smiles.
So having passed Trevor and the jail, we reached the only resort on the island, the Scenic Matavai. The hotel overlooks an idyllic section of coast that has all shades of topaz on display as the coral cliffs drop sharply to deep water. As we were being handed our coconuts on arrival, the resident population of dolphins started a show less than a hundred metres off the front of our room.
While the resort has a stunning series of pools overlooking the ocean – so good you won’t want to leave – we had an orientation tour arranged with ‘Commodore Keith’ — he makes sure you don’t miss out on anything.
Our first stop was a place with so much beauty, the traditional kings of Niue used it as their exclusive bathing spot: Matapa Chasm. This narrow strip of turquoise water is like a massive crack in the earth, encased by steep cliffs on either side. The chasm is protected from the sea by a huge boulder, meaning it’s perfectly calm – like an Olympic swimming pool that’s been placed deep in the coral cliffs. I could have spent the day there, but Keith kept telling us that we were only just getting started.
What you quickly discover about Niue, is there are plenty of attractions that should be world-famous – except few people know about this place, let alone ever come here. The Limu Pools is another of those spots that would be swarmed by thousands if it were in Europe or Asia. It’s a rock pool that is probably the biggest in the world, and shimmers a dazzling kaleidoscope of blues. To our amazement, we were the only ones there.
Niue is renowned for having some of the best ocean visibility in the world for diving and snorkelling – that’s because there are no rivers or streams to dirty the water. The island is essentially a giant piece of coral that grew on top of an old underwater volcano – and there is a vast network of coral caves, inlets and caverns dotted around the island. Our next stop, the Avaiki Cave, even had a huge hidden rockpool in its depths.
The Togo Chasm is another world-class formation that, like me, you’ve probably never heard of. The 30-minute walk to the chasm passes through one of the largest exposed coral fields on Earth, and looks like it’s straight from depths of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings. For hundreds of metres each way, all you can see is jagged razor sharp coral towers, with a small path carved through the middle. At the end of the track, the peaks abruptly stop to reveal a sunken treasure: deep in a hole is a sandy coconut tree-filled oasis, completely enclosed by rock. It looks like a beach, but there is no water. If Tom Hanks and his volleyball Wilson ever wanted to film a second instalment of Cast Away: it should be here.
The ‘beach’ is accessed via a long ladder – where you can lie in the sand, under a tree, and marvel at nature’s incredible power to create the most magical little spaces.
Niue is also gaining a reputation as being one of the best places to swim with humpback whales, which frequent the waters from July to October. Or you can go on a swim with dolphins – that frolic in front of the resort – any time of the year.
The English discovered Niue in the 1700s, but locals wouldn’t let Captain Cook land – which led him to name the place “Savage Island.” Three hundred years later, only a handful of foreigners get to visit this place each week – and what they find is anything but savage. This is a place with so much compassion, the fire service gets called out to help a duck. It also has so much beauty, it won’t be a secret for much longer.
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies to Niue twice a week. See: airnz.co.nz
Staying there: Scenic Matavai is the best choice for beautiful ocean-front accommodation and has one of the best restaurants on the island. Rates start from around $180 per night. See: scenichotelgroup.co.nz
Playing there: The NOT tour (or Niue Orientation Tour) is highly recommended. Keith (the Commodore of the world’s only yacht club without any yachts) – provides an excellent trip around the island. See: niuetours.com
Niue has so much to do underwater: from whales to dolphins, diving or snorkelling. Buccaneer Adventures, right next to the Scenic Matavai, is the best place to book with. See: niuedive.com
The author’s trip was supported by Air New Zealand, Niue Tourism, and Scenic Matavai Resort.