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5 things that will blow your mind in Niue

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Niue
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5 things that will blow your mind in Niue

story by: Anna Sarjeant

Niue is one of the world’s smallest independent nations, and yet it’s home to some of the planet’s most gargantuan inhabitants. If you thought giants were the product of children’s tales, Niue might just surprise you.

1. Humungous humpback whales
The first thing you need to know about humpback whales is not that they’re huge, but that they love to sing. Being up to 15 metres in length and weighing between 25 and 40 tons, they can certainly belt out a melody. Actually, it’s more like an anthem. On any whale diving excursion this is one way you’ll know if there’s a giant in the vicinity, because when a whale bursts into song, such is the magnitude of their voice, your lungs will rattle in your chest. In Niue, the whale season runs from July to October, with August and September offering the best opportunity to interact with one of the world’s largest mammals. With water visibility as clear as it is, swimming amongst these majestic behemoths offers a clarity you won’t find elsewhere. There are rules to ensure swimmers stay at least 200 metres away, but humpbacks are curious by nature, so if you get lucky and they approach of their own accord, revel in the experience and enjoy their titanic presence. As with all animal encounters, sightings are never guaranteed, but with a bit of good luck, their bellows will sing out from beneath the water - and when they do, grab your flippers and get ready to sing along.

2. Giant swaggering crabs
Unfortunately not all giants are as beautiful as the humpback whale. Niue’s gigantic coconut crab is such an unusual looking character, it’s hard not to stare. There’s nothing tiddly about these imposing crustaceans; as wide as your outstretched arms, these Niuean delicacies can occasionally be seen swaggering along the road, heaving their gigantic 4kg bodies from cave to crevice. Better known as uga, coconut crabs may be unconventional, but they’re one of the most prized foods in the South Pacific and absolutely delicious to eat. Niue is one of the few islands with a sustainable amount in the jungle, and hunting the famed uga is a popular Niue pastime; one that requires great skill, patience and a decent-sized machete. Take a tour and you’ll observe the locals lay white coconut meat as bait, returning a few days later (this time at night) to catch the uga while they feast on the flesh, on what is otherwise known as the crab’s last supper. The uga are then caught and stuffed into sacks. It’s forbidden to hunt harvesting females or ugas under the legal size, but if you have the nerves to grab a large one, hook your two fingers over the top and your thumb over the bottom, a guide will then help you hoist the monster into a bag and you can heave him all the way home.

3. Mammoth Talava Arches
Stand beneath the great Arches of Talava and you will feel like a mere speck in a land of weather-beaten giants. So vast are these natural formations that even Captain Cook noted their enormity. Located in the northern part of the island, Talava Arches are a series of caves and naturally created limestone arches. They’re the result of rain, wind and sea water - because when these three unite, immense crevasses are crafted from nature’s very own toolbox. Accessed via a challenging 20 minute walk through dense rainforest, a labyrinth of fossilised coral leads to a system of high-ceiling caves dripping with stalactites. Then come the colossal limestone arches, bathed in colour and swathed in fascinating textures. Visit the arches at low tide and your wanderings will be less hindered by the sea. In the calm part of Talava Arch, it’s also possible to swim and snorkel, or simply chase the scuttling crayfish. Or venture next door to nearby Matapa Chasm. Best described as a narrow gorge, Matapa hosts a striking natural swimming pool and an array of exotic coloured fish.

4. Enormous underwater cathedrals
Some have described Niue’s diving panorama as gigantic Swiss cheese. Perplexing at first, once you consider the underwater topography reads like a dictionary excerpt for the letter C: chasms, caves, caverns, coves, canyons, chimneys and channels, you’ll realise it’s an apt definition. And as much as the island’s above-water landscape is littered with limestone caves, the abyss beneath is much the same - and punctured with holes. Much like exploring submerged cathedrals, the swimthroughs feel like an aquatic exploration of a forgotten city. With windows, spires and canyons on a scale that is unbelievably dramatic, down here you are little more than a tadpole in an ocean of kingdoms. Water clarity is sensational because the island is an upraised coral atoll and its limestone acts as a natural water filter. As a result, visibility can reach up to 100 meters and rarely drops below 30 – a diver’s dream.

5. Larger than life locals
Willy's Washaway Cafe, is neither grand nor giant. If anything, it's rather average sized. What isn't average (by any stretch of the imagination) is Willy himself. A simply marvellous character, Willy is larger than life. He owns (and built) the café himself, but he also takes people crab hunting, fishing and caving. In his spare time he's a baker as well as the local mechanic. And between jobs he entertains the punters with his big personality and even bigger smile. Willy’s a busy man so the Washaway Café at Avetele beach is only open Sundays. The burgers are almost as legendary as Willy, while the bar, which works like an honesty box whereby you serve yourself, adds a relaxed vibe to an already laid-back establishment. Throughout Niue, the locals, much like Willy, are about as friendly as you could hope for; they offer huge smiles and even bigger hearts, their generosity knows no limits. Friendly greetings are the norm and big waves at passers-by are as commonplace as catching the enormous uga.  

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