2400km northeast of New Zealand lies a large coral atoll, only 65 kilometres in circumference and with its highest point just 60m above sea level, Niue is the rock of the Pacific.
Standing alone between Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands, it is the ultimate diving getaway. With no rivers and lakes on the island, runoff is at a minimum, meaning that the water is crystal clear all year round. Some say it ranks up with the very best in the world, at times exceeding 70m and, on a good day, up to 100, imagine that!!
With this in the back of my mind, I didn't need much convincing. I had visions of crystal clear, bath temperature water as I boarded a small plane and headed northeast of New Zealand to a place where Humpback whales frolic outside your bedroom window and where the mighty Uga (coconut crab) has right-of-way on the road.
How to get there
Niue, like much of the South Pacific, is not the easiest place to get to. With only 2 flights a week leaving from New Zealand, a little planning is involved. Once you're there however, the stress of travel dissipates and you can settle into relaxing island life. Most travel is done by car as there are very few public transport options and it's generally a decent walk between villages. If you're lucky, the friendly locals will give you a ride. There's only one road on the whole island, so if you somehow get lost, just keep driving and eventually you'll get back to where you started.
Accommodation, transport & eating
Accommodation is cheap and must be booked prior to your arrival, from local guesthouses to the luxurious Matavai resort, Niue has accommodation to suit all diver's budgets.
If you have got the money, then be sure to hire a car for a few days, as there is so much to see and do. Some of the highlights include the stunning arches, trenches and pools which are all great for snorkeling and exploring. Hiring a car is relatively cheap and the driving is easy, just don't expect any high speed fast and furious type action. Most locals drive between 10 and 50kms and matched with Niuean radio tunes and the compulsory wave to every single person you see on the road, driving in Niue is a very relaxing and enjoyable activity. I should also add that traffic is basically non-existent, as are traffic lights and road rage. Oh, and the road is made of a mixture of sand and coral and full of huuuge pot holes. Hit one of these at speed and I hope you know how to change a tyre !
On your travels, be sure to dodge the dogs, chickens, children and coconut crabs that like to run out to say 'hi' whenever you drive past. If I could offer one bit of advice for driving in Niue it would be to just take it easy, you are on island time after all. One more thing, if you do get a car, make sure you have insurance that covers it. It's not common knowledge on the island, but coconut trees can appear out of nowhere, so keep an eye out, they are fairly easy to reverse into, trust me...
There are a variety of tasty eateries in the main center of Alofi. One you must try is the Falala fa cafe, they have undoubtedly the best burgers in the South Pacific! It pays to be organised though, don't leave dinner too late, as everything closes fairly early, and if it's a quiet night they might just shut up shop for the evening, remember, you're on island time, and opening and closing times are just a rough guide at best!
There is also one supermarket on the island if you prefer to self cater. This is a great spot to grab snacks or stock up on extra supplies, although having to import the majority of their food from New Zealand means you shouldn't expect cheap groceries. Alternatively, get up early and give the Alofi markets a go for fresh, locally grown produce.
The snorkeling in Niue is second to none. If you're competent and have your own equipment, there are many incredible snorkeling sites with beautiful clear water. Simply find a sea track and follow it to the sea. Here you may be met by an abundance of marine life: colorful fish, coral, stingrays, snakes and turtles all make the shallow reefs their home. Venture out a little further and you might bump into pelagic species like jacks, Barracuda , sharks, tuna, and if you're as lucky as me, a Great Hammerhead! Some of the top snorkeling sites on Niue that I can recommend are the Limu pools, Avetele reef, pronounced “av a sell eeee”, the Togo chasm and the Sir John Roberts wharf for something a little different. If you're not sure where to go, just ask a friendly local! The alternative, and a great way to learn about the local marine life and island history, is to go out with a local guide. BJ and Ness from Fish Niue Charters offer fantastic snorkel excursions where you can snorkel amongst schools of fish and have beautiful reefs all to yourself, I highly recommend it!
There are 2 operators on the island of Niue, but for this trip I joined the team from Niue Blue, formerly known as Buccaneer Adventures . They offer a full range of dive courses, from Try Dives right up to professional level. If you are not a diver but want to give it a go, then Niue is a great place to learn. With 60+m visibility and 26 degree water all year round, the warm, clear and safe waters of Niue are the perfect place to catch the diving bug. A wide range of rental gear is available if you prefer to travel light, and they have a bunch of great instructors and dive masters ready to take you on an underwater adventure.
There's not much more to say about the diving than it's absolutely brilliant. The warm bath temperature water and the consistent whale song in the background makes for a very relaxing dive, but the crystal clear water really tops it off. With average visibility being around 40m, a bad dive does not exist in Niue.
As mentioned earlier, Niue is a rock that comes straight out of incredibly deep water, this means that dive sites are all within 10 minutes of the boat ramp and the deep water currents make this special rock a beacon for life in the Pacific. During your dive it's not uncommon to see sleepy reef sharks, schools of pelagic fish, sea snakes and turtles, but if you would rather explore than look at critters, there are plenty of swim throughs, underwater arches, drop offs and cave systems to keep you entertained.
I can highly recommend diving in Niue, the water is warm, clear and there is plenty to see. I wore my Mares 2nd Skin Shorty for the majority of diving and just my long sleeve Thermo Guard when I was snorkeling, if you feel the cold then the Mares Coral suit would be an excellent choice of suit to keep the chills away. Diving in Niue is brilliant all year round, although in the quiet season shops may close, so it's best to call ahead, and the weather can also be more unpredictable at this time. Taking this into account, I would recommend heading there between July and November. This is also the best time to see the Humpbacks (stay tuned for my next blog on this).
Thanks to the team at Niue Blue for looking after me, BJ and Ness at Fish Niue charters for their brilliant snorkeling tours and finally the Falala fa cafe for keeping me well fed for my underwater adventures, be sure to check them all out next time you stop by the rock!
Images and text by Dan Westerkamp
Want to join me on the adventure of a lifetime? I specialise in personalised underwater photography expeditions throughout the South Pacific. Join me in search of Sharks, Humpback whales, Dolphins, snakes and so much more.