We’re now sitting in Niue, a small island that, together with two barely submerged reefs about 100 miles away, is a country unto itself. It is also the world’s largest coral island. The gentle slope of the wooded island is the coral cap on an underwater seamount. It is not tall and mountainous like the volcanic islands of French Polynesia, and it looks pretty mellow from a distance, but the cave-pocketed cliffs of its coastline make Niue entirely unique. There are steep rocky nooks, jutting fields of sharp coral protrusions, chasms cutting into the coral shores, underwater fissures, and damp caves (complete with dripping stalactite and stalagmite formations) that you can snorkel and climb through. You can see the shapes of old coral and shells in the rocky cliffs above water and you can swim under arches and through deep fissures in what might be the world’s greatest snorkeling playground. The water is unbelievably clear; you can see the coral heads more than 120 feet below the boats in the harbor. With the unique caves and crevasses and the stunning visibility, you can see a vast underwater landscape as you swim above it, full of colorful coral and strange fish. Among those fishy creatures are Niue’s famous sea krait–highly venomous, striped sea snakes that writhe among the gorges and poke their heads above the surface to take in the view (and breathe some air). Fortunately, they’re not very likely to actually bite you, even when you don’t notice one swimming near you until you’re practically hugging it.
Niue is also supposed to be a great place for whale watching this time of year. The humpback whales you find in the South Pacific spend their summers feeding in Antarctica and their winters breeding and calving here. Though we haven’t actually seen a whale here yet, we know they are here. Two nights ago, a whale pushed around one of the boats next to us and broke the mooring line it was attached to and the boat. It was dark when it happened, so no one saw the whale, but they did see the boat suddenly moving fast and there’s no other reasonable explanation. The bow roller that the anchor sits on was ripped out, the anchor ripped out of the anchor locker, and the deck of the boat and a sail were damaged. They’ve been working hard to get the boat back in shape to get them home to Australia, with lots of folks from other boats stopping by to lend supplies or help (there isn’t much available in Niue as far as boat hardware goes). We’re hoping that this was an isolated incident, and not a roving bad of juvenile humpback hooligans out to take back their ocean.
Another big highlight for us in Niue is the Niue Yacht Club, the self-styled “biggest little yacht club in the world,” which has no boats, and no officers who know how to sail, but has more members worldwide than there are people in Niue. It also has showers–real live indoor showers with knobs. This has been our first chance to take real showers, instead of just quick splashes from a leaky solar shower, since Costa Rica and we’d forgotten how nice they were! We even get to do some laundry in the sinks here (at $10 for a wash, and double that to dry, laundry by machine has been out of our price range for awhile now). As our night watches get a bit cooler with some additional southerly latitude, we’ve pulled out our long sleeves and pants for the first time in months, and we’re finding ourselves sneezing intolerably. Everything’s gotten a bit musty and moldy, so we strung clothes lines all over the boat and spent most of a day washing and drying clothes this week.
We will probably be here until Friday or Saturday, when the wind is supposed to pick up enough to get us to our next stop in Wallis & Fotuna. We’ll stay there for a few days before we head to Fiji, then we’ll need to be in New Zealand by early November, when the cyclone season kicks up in the South Pacific and the winter gales start to moderate down in Kiwi land.
You might notice that I’ve changed the subtitle on the blog to cut our trip from a world cruise to a Pacific cruise. We decided, somewhere on the long passage to French Polynesia, that the world just might be too big for us to see and do it justice in the time (and budget) we have. Plus, it’s the islands where being on a boat has really been fun–it isn’t always an advantage on those big, continental landmasses where there’s so much to see so far from the sea. So, to maximize our fun time exploring to really long passages ratio, we’ve decided to stick to the Pacific. That means New Zealand this cyclone season, then, most likely, Hawaii next winter (though Rob is kind of obsessed with Kamchatka), and back to Alaska the summer of 2014. We know this will really disappoint everyone who wanted to meet us in South Africa, but we’d like to point out that there are still plenty of opportunities to sail in terrible weather left in our itinerary, one coming up after Fiji.