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Ballet in the Blue

Niue-ladies-at-sunset
Niue

Ballet in the Blue

story by: Paul Rush

Off the Pacific isle of Niue Paul Rush meets creatures both noble and  dangerous in waters of astonishing clarity.

Immersed in the world’s cleanest seawater, I’m feeling buoyant of body, mind and spirit. Visibility underwater is 50m, sufficient to gain a clear view of a pod of freewheeling spinner dolphins turning and twisting in a delightful aerobatic display. The sleek, grey creatures are performing their class act within a mere 200m of the shore of Niue Island, their South Pacific home.

This remarkable coral atoll rises 30 to 60m straight out of deep blue  tropical waters. With no fringing reef as a barrier, dolphins and humpback whales come close inshore. The best lookout spots I found were the restaurant terrace at the popular four-star Matavai Resort and a natural promontory in the centre of Alofi township.

The great visibility on my scuba dive is due to Niue’s lack of rivers and sandy shores. The porous limestone surface terrain absorbs rainwater and it collects in a giant subterranean aquifer. With a low resident population, there’s almost no pollution.

Water clarity here is among the best in the world, never falling below 30m. Dive masters Shannon and Krystal are passionate Aussie aquanauts. They lead me deeper into Avatele Bay, weaving around kaleidoscopic coral bombora among curious Maori wrasse and spiky lionfish.
 
In a cathedral-like cave banded sea snakes spiral upwards to greet us with sinuous reptilian movements. We have entered Snake Gully, a signature dive site with deep undersea caverns. Countless black and white banded sea snakes here appear to be performing underwater ballet.

To say I’m feeling anxious is an understatement. These metre-long, pencil-thin marauders have tiny poison fangs they use to latch on to anything thin enough to fit in their mouths. That narrows the target area on me down to the fold of skin between my thumb and forefinger so I’m keeping my hands to myself.

Below me are several cleaning stations on coral bombora. I watch a large Pacific barracuda glide in for a complete grooming and makeover. Tiny cleaner fish nibble furiously on its gills and mouth, steering clear of its razor-sharp teeth.
 
Krystal tells me that Niue is one of the best whale-diving locations in the Pacific. She once came close to a humpback mother and calf in Avatele Bay. The baby was so curious that it swam directly up to her without warning.
 
“The mum got very anxious and let out a huge scream and an almighty blow, causing vibrations that rocked the boat 100m away,” she says. ‘‘The baby went straight back, touching the mother’s head with her nose, as if to say, ‘Sorry Mum, it won’t happen again’.
 
“The power of the whales is staggering. When you receive an echo-locator beam from a whale, it’s like being at an AC/DC concert standing next to the amplifier.”
 
There’s a wealth of fascinating dive sites around Niue. In Gothic City, pelagic fish cruise the coral ‘‘streets’’ along the 50m drop-off. Limu Twin Caves descend to 38m and are home to flying fish, sweet lips and midnight sea perch. Dramatic Dome Cave extends 30m under the island emerging in an air chamber inhabited by coconut crabs.
 
Back on land, I return to the pampered luxury of my accommodation, still very much in touch with the ocean. A female humpback whale and calf breach in unison 300m offshore from my ocean view balcony. Surging white foam and spray fill the air as the great cetaceans splash back into the water. Sunlight flashes off their sleek, wet backs and droplets fly off their curving flukes.
 
Later, I paddle a vaka dugout canoe along the coast, then join a cycle trek through cool forest glades and avenues of perfumed frangipani and bougainvillea to a spectacular honeycombed limestone ravine. I find a sequestered swimming cove with bright tropical corals — a surprise on an island full of unexpected delights.
 
Along with my favourite pool at Matapa Chasm, paddle board lessons, cocktails at sunset and friendly locals, it’s another highlight I’ll cherish in my Niue Island memories.

‚óŹ The writer travelled to Niue courtesy of Tourism Niue and Air New Zealand.


Your NIUE

1. On arrival in Niue you will be handed a Visitors Guide at the airport. This is a valuable planning guide. The Visitors Centre open Monday – Saturday.
 
2. Take NZ currency as some businesses don’t take EFTPOS or credit cards. Niue does not have any ATM machines. Swanson’s Supermarket will extend cash out with a spend of $5 or more.
 
3. Niue has excellent cafes including the iconic Washaway Café, open from 11am – 11pm on a Sunday. Guests serve their own drinks and savour delicious burgers, fish paninis or pizza.
 
4. Fishing, diving and snorkelling with the dolphins, whale trips and some of the islands beautiful coves are high on the list for many travellers to Niue.
 
5. Rent a vehicle. Niue has no public transport (aside from a restaurant shuttle service on selected evenings) Niue is a “place to explore” with over 120 km’s of paved roads, a rental car, scooter or mountain bike is a must.


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