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Niue Trip Report

Discussion in 'The Pacific Islands' started by WetPup, Sep 11, 2019.

  1. WetPup

    WetPup Weedy Sea Dragon

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Kiwiland
    1,096
    650
    113
    In a word? Frustration.

    The humpbacks were there, but...

    Flights
    Flights to Niue operate twice a week from Auckland (departing Tuesday and Saturday mornings, arriving the day before on Monday and Friday afternoon respectively - they do an immediate turnaround to head back to NZ). Our flight was about an hour late to depart, but no problems. Island time, right?

    There is no computerised check in system in Niue for the return flight, so you need to get there like 3-4 hours early for a manual check in, but then you can leave again and come back an hour or two before your flight.

    Accommodation and Dining
    I had booked a week’s accommodation at the Matavai Apartments, which are about 1.5 km down the road from the main Matavai Resort. As such, I also hired a rental car to get around. There is only 1 taxi on the entire island, so you will want a rental car if you want to do anything.

    Apartment was simple, but comfortable. Small kitchenette with a small electric hob, frypan and saucepans, and a bar fridge. I cooked for myself a couple of times, but the local supermarket was pretty sparse, so you are better off eating out most of the time.

    Speaking of eating out...It’s good but limited options. The seafood is great, and you can get decent fish and chips in Alofi for NZ$10. If you want a decent sit down meal, expect to pay around NZ$25-$30 for a simple main. A can of soft drink is NZ$5. I've had enough fried food in the last week to last me a while though...

    Also note that Niue is a cash economy. You will need NZ dollars everywhere you go, and there is no ATM on the island. Get cash before you leave Auckland airport.

    Car Rental
    My rental car was meant to be waiting at the resort for me with the keys and relevant paperwork. Not so much. Took hours to get someone from the car hire place to sort it out. Island time, right?

    Also, be aware that the roads are terrible, even by island standards. I strongly recommend you check your travel insurance policy to make sure you have a suitable level of coverage for vehicle damage. The potholes are really that bad.

    You are also meant to get a Niuean driver’s license from the local police station, even if you are only there for a week. You can get technically away without it and just drive on your overseas one, but it’s an amusing souvenir, and only costs NZ$22.50.

    And everyone waves to each other as they drive past each other on the road. It’s really cute, and you will find yourself doing it too after the first day!

    Diving etc.
    Buccaneer Adventures are next to the main Matavai Resort. On this trip, I had pre-booked and pre-paid 3 days of 2 tank dives, and 2 days whale watching/swimming. All set to go...

    Day 1: 2 good dives - one on the reef just south of the main dock in Alofi, the other at The Dome...However, I camera issues. Not a flood, the camera just crapped out. Suspect a sensor problem, but the camera is old and due an upgrade anyway. Thankfully I always travel with an identical backup (learned that the hard way). You don’t come back in between dives, and the boats are too small to take anything but dive gear onboard, so all my pics from day 1 are a waste.

    Day 2: Diving cancelled. I didn’t think the weather was that bad to be honest. Certainly dived in far worse, and seen boats launched in far worse, but herein lies the issue with boating activities in Niue. They have to launch the boats by crane at the dock in town. Anything more than a light breeze or a small swell, and they can’t launch safely. Sucks, but ok...Can’t control the weather!

    Day 3: 2 great dives! Backup camera worked well, got some good shots (see below) :)

    Day 4: So after the cancelled diving on day 2, the plan was to make up the missed dives today. But alas, diving cancelled again. Swell too much to launch boats. An otherwise perfect dive day - sun was out, water was pretty calm.

    Also, this was meant to be the first of my whale watching days. Again, no go. Can’t launch the boats. Weather report for day 5 said same as day 4...

    Ended up trying to go for a snorkel at “the most protected spot on the island”. That lasted about 15-20 minutes before the viz was shot and the swell got up too much. There was also very little to see there. Nice sunny limestone rock pool, but negligible marine life in it.

    Day 5: Nada. Whale trip cancelled again. Swell from day 4 didn’t let up. And this was my last day to get out, because in Niue, nothing is open on Sundays. They would love to, but rules say they can’t. And I flew back out on the Monday.

    So, kind of a wasted trip really. Came to see the humpbacks and do a few dives, and in the end, missed out on 3/5 of my planned trips. What I did manage to see on my 2 days diving was amazing, and I did hear the whales singing (from a long way off). That’s something I guess!

    Ended up going to check out a couple of other snorkelling sites, which were nice and quiet until the screaming kids arrived. Gave up on that and went to look at some caves. Best thing about that? Not suitable for kids.

    Day 6: Sunday rest day - not much open, so took my car for a drive around the island stopping to check out a few snorkelling spots along the way. Ended up at the Washaway honesty bar that night watching a couple of whales playing off in the distance :)

    *-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-

    I know you can’t control the weather or the ocean, the wind and swell is beyond anyone’s control. But when you know the whales are there, because you have heard them underwater and you can see them from shore swimming by, but you are prevented from doing your planned activity because they can’t launch a boat in anything but calm conditions, it is...frustrating. The island has no real protected harbour, it is at the mercy of mother nature. And they can’t keep the boats in the water overnight.

    I also found that there is a distinct lack of alternative options if the diving or whale trips get cancelled. There are a lot of swimming spots around the island, but if they can’t launch the boats because of the weather or swell, that pretty much stuffs most of the snorkelling and coastal cave sites too. And that aside, there isn’t actually much to do except sit by the resort pool drinking and reading a book. Not that there’s anything wrong with that...for some people. I’m just not someone who is ever going to be happy doing that on holiday. If I wanted to sit around the pool and drink/read all day, I could do that at home.

    I in no way blame the dive shop for any of this. However it is worth pointing out that this is meant to be the best time of year to visit. So would I recommend Niue as an alternative to Tonga for humpbacks? Probably not on its own. The whales are there, no question. But the ability to get out on the water is unreliable. I tried to book Vava’u in Tonga back in January, but it gets sold out so far in advance by dive clubs that it is entirely impractical for me to book so far ahead (like many others, I can’t book time off work 2 years in advance). Niue was recommended to me as an alternative. If you are simply looking for a warm tropical island in the South Pacific for a getaway, go for Niue. It is a lovely laid back island! But in my opinion it is too unreliable, even at the supposed best of times, to come for the explicit purpose of diving and/or humpback whales. Even when you know with absolute certainty the whales are there, you still may not actually be able to get out on the water to see them.

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  2. Trailboss123

    Trailboss123 Divemaster ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Tacoma, WA & Channel Islands, CA- USA
    1,881
    1,902
    113
    Thanks for the detailed report @WetPup - much appreciated.
     
  3. outofofficebrb

    outofofficebrb HARRO HUNNAYYY

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: San Francisco, California
    2,666
    1,907
    113
    Thanks for sharing. The photos you did get look great!
     
  4. drrich2

    drrich2 Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    7,668
    4,727
    113
    Especially appreciate the practical pointers, like the need for a given currency and lack of ATMs. Very useful to know for those planning trips.

    Since I'm not familiar with either one, the obvious question is, 'Why did you choose Niue over a trip to Tonga?' Remember I don't know where they are, the practicalities of your travel to either, etc...

    Richard.
     
  5. WetPup

    WetPup Weedy Sea Dragon

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Kiwiland
    1,096
    650
    113
    In my OP:
    :)

    Both are about the same distance from NZ flight wise. Tonga has easier access as there are more flights, and you can get there from Australia or NZ with daily flights. Niue is twice a week and only out of Auckland. Tonga has a more established infrastructure and is probably easier to deal with for most people, and the whales have been known to congregate there for much longer.

    There's no question in my mind that there are humpback whales in Niue, but from a diver's perspective, it's hard to justify going all that way if you can't be sure you're going to get in the water. And I only had to travel from Wellington in NZ, so it's harder for anyone travelling from further afield!
     
    outofofficebrb and drrich2 like this.
  6. drrich2

    drrich2 Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    7,668
    4,727
    113
    Thanks, I missed that. Is Niue booking typically pretty open? Dive destinations that are very 'hit or miss' are quite a gamble. Too big a gamble for me!

    Richard.
     
  7. WetPup

    WetPup Weedy Sea Dragon

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Kiwiland
    1,096
    650
    113
    Not sure what you mean by "pretty open"? There's only 2 flights a week, and in peak season (July-Sept), flights are 100% full. There's only 2 dive shops on the island, and between them I think they have 3 dive boats and 2 whale watching boats. The dive boats take 4 divers + a guide, and I think the whale boats take 6 passengers. Due to this, you really need to book with sufficient advance notice if you want to go. I booked this trip back in early April, and I was already having to shuffle days I could get on the boats and book flights around that.
     
    drrich2 likes this.

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