Day 25, – Alofi, Niue
Planning for a port visit
Niue is an island that isn’t visited very often by cruise ships and there isn’t a lot of tourist infrastructure. This is the only port of the entire cruise where HAL didn’t offer a single shore excursion. When planning for a world cruise, or for that matter, any cruise, I spend almost as much time researching each port as I will ultimately spend visiting that port. I scour the usual internet travel sites: Fodors, Frommers, Tripadvisor, Cruise Critic, other travel blogs, You Tube VLOGs etc. If something looks interesting I will contact tour operators, local business owners, tourist agencies to nail down operating hours, maps and other points of interest.
My research into Niue revealed some interesting caves, pools and other scenic spots along with a chance to visit the Washaway Café which is only open on Sunday. Walking to all these spots was out of the question so the only option was to rent a car or to try and find a local driver or tour agency. If a car rental is reasonably available, that is always my preference as the flexibility of having our own transportation is hard to beat. I found several different car rental agencies and after sending email inquiries to all of them I settled on a company called Niue Rental because of its pricing and responsiveness to my email queries.
Niue Rentals was located about ½ mile from our expected shore side tender location. We were prepared to walk to the office if necessary, but they said that they would meet us at the wharf.
I had planned to meet them at 9:30 AM, but that was before the uncertainty surrounding our tendering was fully understood. Fortunately, most rental car agencies are flexible with reservation times, but I always prefer to be as close to my reservation time as possible, particularly if they are going to meet me at a designated pick up spot.
My cell phone carrier, AT&T didn’t offer any service on this island, making it impossible to call them regarding any last-minute changes to our schedule. Fortunately, most shore side operators are very familiar with cruise ship operations and they understand that flexibility is essential for everyone.
Tendering – again
Since I didn’t need to be on the first tender, I waited until the tender ticket table opened for business at 7AM before heading up to get my ticket. The line hadn’t started moving at 7AM and my spot at the end of the line was all the way back into the Lido Market near the beverage station. Once the line started moving, it only took a few minutes to reach the front where I received my ticket – Red 34 or the 7th group to be called. At this point I couldn’t be sure if I would have to wait 15 minutes or 90 minutes before my number would be called.
Since the sea conditions were smooth and there weren’t any scheduled HAL tours that would command the first few tenders, I expected today’s tendering would proceed much faster that it might have otherwise.
Sure enough, tendering went very quickly and at 9:30 AM we went down to deck A and boarded our tender. Sea state was smooth and we were ashore in 10 minutes.
Getting the rental van
After asking a few people we found Stanley from Niue Rentals who had arrived on the wharf a few minutes earlier. We didn’t notice anyone selling tours or rentals, but many other people were meeting prearranged tours or rental cars.
In a few minutes we were at the Niue Rental office, competed all the paperwork and were on our way. Stanley told us to leave the van at the wharf with the keys in the ignition when we were done for the day. They would pick it up later, fill the tank for us when the gas station opened at 6 PM, then charge my credit card for the actual cost of the gas.
We had originally planned to drive around the island, but Stanley advised us that there was nothing to see on the island’s east side. He explained that since the east side roads were so poor we didn’t have time to complete a circumnavigation even if we wanted to. He circled his recommended stops on our map and we were on our way.
Touring the northern portion of Niue
The roads are narrow, full of pot holes and we didn’t go much faster than 25 mph. The steering wheel is on the right side, but since the roads are so narrow, everyone drives down the center until another car approaches when you move over to the side to pass. You can see a scanned copy of the map we used HERE.
We headed north about 5 miles to our furthest point of interest: Matapa Chasm.
NOTE: Most of the time as you were driving around Niue you couldn’t see the ocean as the view was obscured by trees and other vegetation. The points of interested are all well marked with signs that provide more information about the attraction. Clean, semi-portable toilets (complete with water for flushing) were available at most of the stops.
The Matapa Chasm is located about a 7-minute walk down a well-worn path. People with mobility issues would find this challenging, but it is a fairly easy walk over gently sloping, but uneven terrain. This spot was the exclusive bathing pool of Niuean Royalty in ancient times. The end of the trail opens to a small canyon with a tidal pool that opens to the ocean several hundred yards further. It was overcast most of the day with sporadic light rain sprinkles, but never long enough for us to put on our rain jackets.
After visiting the Matapa Chasm, we headed back toward town stopping at the other scenic spots along the way. We always try to go to the furthest spot first and then work our way back toward the ship so if something gets delayed we will be getting ever closer to the ship as the day goes on.
Our next stop was the Limu Pools – which is home to a variety of sea life – and is near the village of Namukulu which was favored landing site of early settlers. Getting to these pools was a short walk down an path and then some wooden and metal steps that were quite slippery due to the rain. We spotted a few people snorkeling in these pools, and we spotted a few very bright blue fish, but from where we were standing it didn’t look like a particularly interesting snorkeling site.
We continued down the road to the Palaha Cave, which is an easily (relatively) accessible cave system with a giant window opening to a reef flat – and is only accessible during low tide. The cave is at the end of a short trail, followed by wooden steps. The cave is very open and once inside you can see an opening to the sea and sky. Accessing the cave requires you to carefully travel over uneven rocks for about 30 feet. Not recommended for anyone who may not be comfortable moving and almost hopping from rock to rock.
On the way out, we spotted this large spider which we couldn’t identify. If anyone knows what kind it is, please leave a comment.
Our final stop before we returned to the central part of Alofi was Avaiki which was another large tidal pool and cavernous opening. Only accessible during low tide, this spot requires you to scamper, going hand over hand, over uneven rocks and then wading through shallow water. It was very interesting spot, but getting there requires a high degree of balance and coordination along with wearing shoes that you didn’t mind getting wet.
It was now a little after Noon as we headed back into central Alofi. The town was now filled with cruise ship passengers, that were mostly congregated around the visitor center and a few open restaurants. We planned to stop in the visitor center on the way back and see if we could find any interesting souvenirs, but by the time we returned around 3 PM, everything was closed. If shopping here is important to you, take advantage of any opportunity when you find open stores.
Lunch at the Washaway Cafe
We were getting a little hungry, so we didn’t stop in Alofi but continued to Avatele Beach on the southern side of the island. Here we found the Washaway Café, which is only open on Sunday. The café is nestled amongst the trees and is covered but open to the elements. There are a few tables completely outside with a similar number inside. The café is self-service. You go behind the bar and grab your own beer or soda from coolers, marking your selections into a spiral notebook to facilitate paying when you are ready to leave. For food orders, you write down your selections into a different spiral notebook and then hand it too the cook who will get started on your order. When your food is ready, they will bring it to your table. The menu was limited to burgers, fish sandwiches and pizza. Our group ended up ordering a few things from every category and it was all quite tasty. Paying for the meal is on the honor system. You point which items in each notebook are yours and they total things up. Some patrons actually forget to pay for their meal and seek out the owner later in the week to pay him.
The owner opens this place only on Sundays since everything else is normally closed and he has another place that is open during the week. He said that they get two flights a week from Auckland (3 hours away by air) with each flight bringing about 100 people.
On the way back to Alofi we spotted these large wooden panels painted as a variety of superheroes. We stopped to take a few pictures and tossed in a few coins to their donation box.
Our final stop was a scenic overlook that gave a great view of the Niue coastline. It was also billed as a whale watching spot, but we didn’t spot any as it was the wrong time of year.
As I mentioned earlier, the town was closed up by the time we returned. We found an open art gallery but didn’t find anything of interest.
We left our van on the wharf, with the keys in the ignition, and headed back to the ship. After we arrived there were only 12 people left ashore, and I suspect that it was mainly the people running the shore side tender operation.
Niue was a pleasant surprise which exceeded our, albeit low, expectations. Renting a car is a must if you want to see anything other than the few shops in town. Driving here is easy so don’t let that discourage you, but I would make a reservation to ensure a car is available. We were told that we may have to get a Niue drivers license, but since it was a Sunday they said the police station was closed for this purpose and we didn’t need to worry about getting one.
I headed up to the Sailaway after Pub Trivia but by the time I got there at 5:30 everybody and all the special appetizers were already gone.
Our evening aboard
Dinner continues to be incredible. We haven’t had anything that wasn’t fantastic. Our expectations for dining were high, but the wonderful crew of the ms Amsterdam continues to impress us with the total dining room experience.
The Knights put on an encore performance this evening. Their show is fantastic, high energy and extremely entertaining. My only mild criticism was that their wonderful West End vocals are too refined to sing Rod Stewarts “Maggie May” which requires more gravelry and gritty vocals. Imagine Karen Carpenter singing “Jumping Jack Flash” – it’s good but not quite right. Nevertheless, the show is outstanding and highly recommended.
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