Monday, June 18, 2012

Niue Arrival

June 1 - 2, 2012

We really really enjoyed our time in Niue. We arrived on a Friday afternoon of a 3-day weekend (Queen's Birthday is Monday and a holiday), so we were really fortunate to arrange clearance on Friday afternoon, just before things shut down. We had heard that since the weekly Air NZ plane comes in at 2pm on Friday, it is difficult to get cleared on Friday after about 10am. But a combination of emails ahead of time to Niue Yacht Club, telling them we were arriving mid-day Friday, and the presence of part of the World ARC fleet, also trying to clear in on Friday afternoon, helped us out.

Our first adventure in Niue was the unique way they handle dinghies. Because Niue has no natural harbor, the only pier is a huge concrete pier in the open roadstead. Even on a good day, the ocean swell sloshes around the pier enough to make it hazardous to small boats, and in winds from NW to SW, the swell would pretty much smash any small boat left at the pier. So the Niueians use a crane to lift their boats out as soon as they arrive at the landing. The hook is left hanging about 4' from the water, so you have to unload your 'stuff', hook a bridle to the hook, hop out, and lift the dinghy with the crane. Sounded difficult, but it's not in calm weather. At high tide (when the waves are coming over the tiny reef surrounding the pier), or in swelly weather, it's quite a feat to just get out of the dinghy safely, not to mention get the dinghy up too. But we managed (after watching another boat do it just before us).

We did our paperwork with Customs on the pier (no charge) and then walked up to Immigration. Thanks to a phone call from Keith at Niue Yacht Club, who had met us on the pier, the nice lady at Immigration had stayed after hours to help us complete our clearance on Friday afternoon. Clearance in is free, but there is a $35NZ Departure Tax per passport.

Once we finished the paperwork, we found the Niue Yacht Club, which is currently located in the ground floor of Niue Backpackers facility. It's thirsty work doing all that paperwork!! So we had cold beers all around.

Ira and Brian, who own and run Backpackers, also handle a lot of the day-to-day stuff for Niue Yacht Club. Ira (pronounced ear-ah), started helping us almost as soon as we walked in the door. We'd been trying to arrange a car rental, but by the time we finished clearing in, both rental places were closed. No problem, Ira phoned the people at Niue Rentals at home, and insisted they deliver a car down to the Yacht Club for us ASAP. She said we could have the car for the weekend and do the paperwork with Niue Rentals on Tuesday morning. So by early Saturday morning, we had the keys to a nearly new 6-passenger van. We ended up keeping this car for a week, splitting the cost with Graham and Avril on Dream Away. The cost was $300NZ ($240 US) for the week (all inclusive).

The next challenge at Niue is getting cash. Since our trip to Niue was totally unplanned, we had Tongan, Fijian, and US dollars. Niue operates on New Zealand dollars. And this is one of the very first places in 5 years where there were no ATM's. And all the banks were closed. Most of the businesses do NOT accept any credit cards (and those that do, only Visa). Fortunately, Dream Away had a wad of NZ cash, and said they could stake us for the weekend, and we'd pay them back on Tuesday when the bank and businesses were open. (We ended up working a cash advance with Niue Rentals, using their Paypay 'pay for your rental by credit card' account, as the only bank in town has an extremely unfavorable exchange rate, and high cash advance fees).

We also got a shower key from Niue Yacht Club. You pay a deposit for the key, for which a small fee is deducted when you return the key. In return, they maintain two very nice family style showers on quay, with HOT WATER!! (our first hot water showers since November!!)

By Saturday morning, we were "sorted"--having gotten maps and info from the very nice Tourist Bureau, and a personal briefing from Ira on where to go and what to do--especially useful since it was a 3 day weekend, and everything's closed on Sunday. We had also made preliminary contact with Niue Divers, and talked about doing some dives with them during the next week.

So Saturday afternoon we spent doing the 'Sea Tracks' on the NW coast of Niue. A Sea Track is a trail and/or steps whereby you can access the water. Each one leads down to a beach, reef, or dramatic cave on the water. Ira told us "every one is different", and encouraged us to try to see all of them, if we had the time. (If you don't have the time, see the 'highlights' ones in the Tourist Brochure--they are the best).

We were amazed at how clean and orderly Niue is. Each of the Sea Tracks we visited were well-marked on the map, well marked with a nice sign by the road, had trash cans and sometimes a toilet and showers, and the grass was mowed and often the area was nicely landscaped. Compared to the 'take it or leave it' attitude of the Tongans (and the trash all over), Niue is a tourist's paradise.

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