Why you should make Niue your next Pacific Island holiday destination
“When I tell people I'm going back to Niue they usually scrunch up their noses and say 'really? Niue? That’s the one that doesn’t have any beaches right?' If only they knew (although a little part of me is secretly kind of happy that they don’t)!|"
Pamela Shaw, a broker for World Travellers Fuzion Travel, has visited Niue three times. Clearly, there’s something about this place that has captured her heart and soul. Along with the rest of the Fuzion Travel office, she recently visited the island for the store's annual conference. The crew have fallen in love with this Pacific paradise and have returned with plenty of tips to share. We're guessing you may not have considered visiting this little island before, but after reading about all the incredible things you can see and do here you might just change your mind.
Just don’t all head there at once, alright? Fuzion Travel's consultants kind of wish they had the island all to themselves ;)
Where is Niue and how can you get there?
Niue Island lies 2,400km northeast of New Zealand, on the eastern side of the international date line. It's a coral atoll (hence its nickname "The Rock") that sits in the middle of a group of Polynesian islands including Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands. Niue is approximately 261 square kilometres in size and is made up of 14 small villages that are scattered around the island. It’s self-governing nation in free association with New Zealand, and its inhabitants speak both English and Niuean.
Air New Zealand is the only airline to fly from New Zealand to Niue, and operates twice weekly flights to the island, getting you there in just over three hours. As it’s just across the international date line, you can leave here on a Saturday and arrive on a Friday - the weekend starts anew!
When's the best time to visit Niue?
You can visit Niue all year round. As it's a tropical island you can expect pretty warm temperatures both in and out of the water all throughout the year. Even in winter temperatures sit at a lovely 20-28 degrees celsius. We reckon you might like to go during this time to get away from New Zealand winter and give yourself a nice sunny holiday!
Fuzion Travel broker Sarah Bartlett points out that winter is the best time to visit Niue for another special reason: “The whale-watching season is from July to October, with July/August generally being the most active for whales (Mother Nature can never be guaranteed though). Niue is one of only a handful of places where you are allowed to swim with the whales, or you can view from boats or the island itself with many viewing points.”
Why visit Niue?
If you ask the Fuzion Travel team, Niue is the Pacific’s best-kept secret. "It’s a place where everyone knows each other, everyone waves when passing, no one seems to lock their cars or doors and we feel we must leave it all exactly as we found it. Just over three hours away from New Zealand lies an experience where one steps back in time to another era,” says Fuzion Travel’s Principal and Marketing Manager Graeme Moore.
"It’s a place where everyone knows each other, everyone waves when passing, no one seems to lock their cars or doors and we feel we must leave it all exactly as we found it." - Graeme Moore
There are so many reasons to visit Niue, but Sarah probably sums it up best: “Niue is a very relaxed destination and with minimal Wi-Fi and no cellphone reception, you’re able to get away from a busy lifestyle and get back to basics. Here you can swim with dolphins, see whales close up, chill at Washaway Café the honesty bar, snorkel in warm waters, swim in safe rock pools with colourful fish and experience such a happy nation! Niue is a destination with something to offer everyone - this South Pacific Gem is a great place to reconnect with friends and family, relax, explore, do as much or as little as you want.”
"Niue is a destination with something to offer everyone - this South Pacific Gem is a great place to reconnect with friends and family, relax, explore, do as much or as little as you want.” - Sarah Bartlett
Here are a few reasons to head to this friendly destination on your next Pacific island holiday.
1. Experience an abundance of water activities
One of the main draws of tourism to Niue is its whale watching between late June and October.
“Niue’s location is on the migratory route hundreds of kilometres from the next island," says Pamela. "It’s prolific marine life is a major drawcard for the whales to rest, feed and nurse their young. This makes it one of the few places in the world where special operators are able to offer swimming with the whales interactions.”
If you’re staying at the Scenic Matavai you’ll have a prime position for whale watching, with a 180 degree unobstructed view for kilometres up and down the south eastern coast where dolphins regularly feed and play in great familial pods.
If you’re staying at the Scenic Matavai (where the Fuzion Travel team did) you’ll have a prime position for whale watching, with a 180 degree unobstructed view for kilometres up and down the south eastern coast where dolphins regularly feed and play in great familial pods. “On a calm evening you can have dinner on the deck accompanied by the slapping of giant whale fins really close to shore because of the deep drop off,” Pamela says.
If you ask Pamela, some of the best fishing in the world is to be had off the coast of Niue.
"The biggest fishing charter boat carries five passengers, but the operators are happy to work together and take out a couple of boats together for larger groups. The boats are hoisted into the water off the wharf in town so it’s a unique experience from the get-go. Our group only had a very small window early on the morning we flew home to get out on the water. They hauled in these beauties – yellow fin tuna and wahoo – in about 2.5 hours of fishing and were back in time for the resort kitchen to sashimi it for us for lunch before we boarded our 2.30pm flight – that’s fresh!”
“I have never known anyone to go out fishing at Niue and come back empty-handed. The catch stays with the boat, you might be able to take a little to sample yourself if you have the facilities to cook it up, and the rest is sold to the local restaurants or divvied up amongst the village families.”
“I have never known anyone to go out fishing at Niue and come back empty-handed." - Pamela Shaw
Snorkelling and swimming
“Niue has hands down the most amazingly clear water for snorkelling and diving that you will experience anywhere in the world,” says Pamela. “This is because it’s a giant rock (well a coral atoll actually). There is no soil, and therefore no dirty run-off from the land - just pure, crystal-clear water filtered through limestone. That means year-round visibility up to 80m. They call it “gin clear waters” and it’s no exaggeration!”
Fuzion Travel broker Kirsten Adams agrees: “Niue is quite rare in that its reef is literally at your feet, so you can snorkel straight off the island and experience a stunning array of brightly coloured fish, healthy coral and not have to travel out some distance to reach it. You can even go diving less than 100m out from land.”
Pamela suggests that if snorkelling is your main focus, don’t plan your trip in Feb/March or even early April. "This is Kaloama spawning season, which is an important time for the local fisherman and many of the most popular sea tracks are closed for swimming. The opening and closing dates are not fixed; rather, it’s up to the fisherman and villages to decide how long the season will run each year."
if snorkelling is your main focus, don’t plan your trip in Feb/March or even early April.
The various snorkelling spots are best viewed - and safest - at different points of the tide, so it takes a bit of local knowledge and planning. “Keith of Niue Orientation Tours operates an excellent introduction to the island tour – a must for your first morning”, says Pamela. “The resource pack he gives out with optimal tides for the week and a rundown of each sea track including a thumbnail photo so you can remember which is which, is invaluable to refer back to during your stay.”
Kirsten recommends going on a Discovery Island Tour with Explore Niue Tours run by a husband and wife duo. “We were treated to exploring the gorgeous Limu Pools – a popular snorkelling and swimming spot along with going snorkelling in Matapa Chasm,” Kirsten recalls. “This was an amazing experience to see salt and freshwater colliding, swimming amongst the sea life with big cliffs rising up beside you."
Teryl Tumai, whose father is from Niue and who grew up in the Pacific, has some more top suggestions: On top of Matapa Chasm and Limu Pools, she recommends visiting Avaiki Cave (at low tide only). “You also must visit Hikutavake Rock Pools, but only at low tide and be careful of the surging waves," she cautions. "If you have small children then the best spots for swimming and snorkelling are Utuko, Avatele and Tamakautoga.”
"If you have small children then the best spots for swimming and snorkelling are Utuko, Avatele and Tamakautoga.” - Teryl Tumai
2. Get out and about with adventurous land-based activities
One of the best ways to orientate yourself with the island is to take a tour around it with someone who knows all the hidden spots.
“Vanessa from Explore Niue Tours was great in giving us all an insight into island life and learning different things about Niuean history, such as the black birding boats that took 150 people and the cyclone that wiped out villages, museums and supermarkets in very recent history,” says Kirsten. “As part of the tour we were also treated to enjoy local produce in the morning tea break – fresh coconut water, papaya and plantain chips – which were a real hit.”
“My highlight of Niue would have to be the morning spent freestyling it round the island on Niue’s newest form of transportation – e-bikes,” says Kirsten. “This was a great way to explore the island, stopping off every few kilometres to visit hotspots such as swimming caves or burial caves, rock pools or swimming spots. Swimming in the Avaiki Cave was one of those moments in life where you pinch yourself and think – is this for real? It was truly unique and amazing. Taking a wrong turn and exploring some of the conservation area ended up to be a bit of adventure for us all and something to add to the experience.”
The Fuzion Travel team explored the island e-bikes from local operator Freedom Bikes Niue - check out their adventures in the video below:
For Graeme, this wasn't just an enjoyable activity, but an indication of some of the work that's being done by local tourism operators on the island to reduce their environmental footprint.
“Niue is quietly pushing ahead and doing its very best to minimise its eco footprint and to tread as lightly on the environment as it can,” he points out. “And what better way to respect the environment, get close to the people, get a tan, some fresh air and exercise than on those fat-wheeled Freedom Bikes of Niue?”
"What better way to respect the environment, get close to the people, get a tan, some fresh air and exercise than on those fat-wheeled Freedom Bikes of Niue?” - Graeme Moore
The company is run by Ian Richardson, a fellow Kiwi who married a Niuean. “He sure did his homework with the models he imported," says Graeme. "They have plenty of power for top-to-bottom island jaunts, big fat tyres to soak up the bumps and seats for one's backside to enjoy while seeing the sights and meeting the locals.”
"After just a few minutes of tuition, four e-bike virgins were off on a day-long adventure. Their pedal power took them to explore a heap of the secret swimming pools, local sights and of course the eclectic and oh-so-welcoming drinks and dining spots like the Crazy Uga Cafe and Bar.
3. Sample delicious local cuisine
If there’s one reason to visit Niue aside from its tropical climate and all the activities you can do, it’s the delicious food you can expect to be treated to while you’re there. Pamela reckons the food is simply to die for: “Ocean to plate in a matter of hours, accompanied by an ever-increasing selection of fresh produce a la hydroponics (no soil creates a challenge for growing anything other than taro or plantain the usual way).”
She recommends you plan ahead if you’re eating out. “A certain element of planning pays off in spades, as most restaurants and cafes only operate on certain days, and take turns at hosting a happy hour on a different day rather than competing against each other. It’s all very civilised, and such fun to track around and sample a wide selection of cuisine - and don’t forget the cocktails!”
Expect to pre-book for specialty dining as some places operate on minimum numbers. “Get in early too, as the most popular dishes sell out fast”, recommends Pamela. Her top pick is the Kaiika restaurant, “a marvel in it’s own right – with a top Japanese sushi chef seconded out of Tokyo for two years at a time. The quality and freshness of the menu is not just good for a small island in the Pacific - it’s actually world-class.”
Kirsten also had some good recommendations: “One of the neat things about Niue is its selection of places to eat with a few fun cafés and restaurants dotted through the island. We were able to enjoy delicious Roti from Gill’s Indian takeaway for lunch, a five course Japanese dinner from Kaiika, coffee & brownies from The Crazy Uga and a lunch time visit of Hio Café where they cook you restaurant-style burgers on the BBQ. Most of these of courses allow for the opportunity to take in the spectacular seaside views as you enjoy your meal. The dining at Scenic Matavaiis is also not something to be missed.”
Sarah's favourite was the Washaway Café, which operates on an honesty system. “It’s very unique. You write down your meal order in a book and they’ll cook it for you. Here I ate one of the best burgers I’ve ever had! You serve drinks yourself and record what you’ve taken in a drinks book, then you pay via Eftpos or Cash. I just love the honesty system - it is very Niuean.”
4. Make new friends
As Niue is a small island with a population of under 1,500, you’ll no doubt encounter some familiar faces from time to time.
"Almost all of the business operators in Niue are involved in at least two or more businesses, so the same faces crop up everywhere you go and you very quickly get to know everyone by name,"says Pamela.
“There's also this other amazing feeling you get with your fellow tourists on the island. As there are only two flights a week, and only from Auckland, you arrive with a plane load of mostly Kiwi holidaymakers. Because of the timing of everything from tides and snorkelling, to the restaurant opening days, you find the same faces popping up everywhere, creating a lovely sense of familiarity with those around you. It’s kind of like being on a cruise ship with a plane load of people – yet not! By my third trip I was being greeted by the locals around the island like a returning friend.”
Time passes differently on Niue, and it shows in the attitudes and lifestyles of the inhabitants. “Niue is very relaxed," says Sarah. "You’ll find everywhere is closed on a Sunday as a day of rest, and that the hours of opening vary between shops and cafés depending on if a flight is arriving as many people have more than one job, or they’re out fishing and tending to their family.”
5. Stay at the very best accommodation
The Fuzion Travel team stayed at the Scenic Matavai Resort. Designed to take full advantage of its unique environment, the resort blends into the surrounding landscape of coral outcrops, coconut palms, rainforest, and tropical flowers. Its locaton perched over the Pacific Ocean means guests get a unique vantage point from which to watch local marine life such as turtles, dolphins and humpback whales - all without leaving the resort! Having recently undergone a multimillion dollar refurbishment and expansion, the resort's facilities and amenities are top-notch - among the very best on offer in the Pacific. Guests can enjoy a meal at the highly regarded restaurant, soak up the sun on the expansive cliff top decks, or relax after a long day exploring at the poolside bar.
So, if you’re looking for some active relaxation, a laidback atmosphere, delicious food and a chance to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life – consider a trip to Niue. We’re certainly going back!