Friday, September 21, 2018

Niue - 'The Rock'

[Kyle]In Niue again, after all of that time and all of those miles, it felt like we had only been gone a week. We cycled, and rented a car, snorkeled and generally relaxed. Occasionally we hitchhiked (or people would just pick us up if we looked lost), it was easy to get around. It didn’t take us long to revisit all of our old favorites: Limu Pools, the Talava Arches, Togo and Anapala Chasms and one trip to almost all of the island’s restaurants.

Back in Niue!

A few things had changed. The yacht club lost their space, so they have no physical presence. Mooring fees are paid to Harry at Gill’s Indian restaurant. In only his first week, Harry shows signs that he may well regret having volunteered for the duty. He makes the best Indian food on the island, though. The grocery and liquor stores moved into Zebignew building in the middle of the island, which is way nicer than the old one by the wharf, but way less convenient. Getting there requires renting a car or hitchhiking and buying enough stuff to convince them to give you a ride back. Bummer.

Cycling about warranted a fancy cocktail to aid recovery
And we shared a little time with some of the locals (Jeremiah and Enez)

At Limu Pools, we met a really nice local couple who we liked so much, we invited them to the boat the next morning. Neither of them had been on a sailboat. They had a million questions and it was nice to remember what it was like when it was all new and strange for us.

Talava Arches

Togo Chasm, and the Freshwater Anapala Chasm

Some snorkelling fun - Kyle has a baby octopus on his wrist
(he found it in our speed wheel)

At the parking lot at Togo Chasm, Maryanne went to check out a piece of litter someone hadn’t bothered to put in the nearby bin. It turned out to contain two tiny abandoned kittens. They were Silver Tabbies no more than a week old. We stopped at the first house in the next village that looked like it had activity. We were hoping to find directions to a shelter or the Wildlife Agency. A woman reluctantly opened the door for us just before we were about to give up. I think she thought we were going to try to sell her something. When we showed her what was in the box and explained the situation, she offered to look after them herself. She had a little boy of about seven who got a peek in the box and from the look on his face, he was going to make sure his mom took care of his adorable new kittens. If only we didn’t have all of the international quarantine problems, we would have adopted them ourselves. They are going to be so cute in a few weeks when they get old enough to be clumsy, jumping balls of fluff.

We also managed to get in a visit to the Washaway Café, which is only open on Sundays. They have a great location, delicious food and a self-serve honor bar, where you can just go back and get whatever you want. Just write it in the little book on the bar when you do.

This year, mostly at Maryanne’s insistence, we went for a whale watching tour. We balked at the price last year, but ended up regretting it. Everybody we knew that went came back beaming with the excitement of their encounters. She went out twice with Oma Tafua (Niue’s local whale watching research organization) on their volunteer research boat in 2017, but had no luck then either. She was determined to do all she could to get an actual whale encounter this year.

We signed up with Magical Niue Adventures and promised each other not to think about the price. Once it was spent, it was gone and there was no use worrying about it. The fact that our visit coincided with Maryanne’s birthday helped to justify the expense, and Maryanne suggested that if I objected to the cost we’d save money if she went alone… Naturally we both went. {Maryanne: The price really was reasonable, $175NZ each, but just way more than we’re used to paying for the treats along our travels}.

We met Magical Niue Adventures at the pier at first light. We spent the whole morning searching and searching, but we found no hint of whales. The Spinner Dolphins that the tour often gets to swim with also seemed to be off of the island, so our guides took us to a few nice spots for snorkeling, including one really cool chasm near the mooring field that we totally missed.

It was hard not to be bummed out about forking over a bunch of dough to go snorkeling. We always knew we might not get lucky. It’s real nature, not a zoo, after all. We tried to imagine how many thousands or tens of thousands we have saved by snorkeling without guides all of this time. That only helped a little. The next morning, we swam from Begonia to the chasm (The Belly of the Whale) and made a point of lingering to get our money’s worth.

After settling up and eating a last meal at Gills, we cleared out of Niue and returned to Begonia to get ready for the passage to Tonga. As I was about to hoist the dinghy, Rami, the owner of Magical Niue, raced over in his big, orange dive boat. He said he just spotted some whales and told us to get in.

We evacuated Begonia. The hatches were open. The dinghy was under the davits. I didn’t find out until we got back that Maryanne had actually managed to shut the main door before we left. On the boat were Rami, two guides from his staff and us. We had an impromptu private tour!

After a little searching, they relocated the pair they had sighted before. We thought they were moving, so we went ahead after their last dive to have them intercept us (there are strict rules for approaching whales). When the whales resurfaced, they hadn’t moved. We went back. Mindy, the guide, went in and found them. When she gave the thumbs up, everybody but Rami went in.

When we first saw the whales, they were so deep that all we could see was a little bit of contrast between their dark bodies and the white leading edges on their pectoral fins and their flukes. They weren’t moving fast and if Mindy hadn’t pointed them out, I would have thought we were looking at strips of sand.

Then they slowly, imperceptibly surfaced. The contrast improved and slowly the strips of sand resolved into two giant whales. Actually, for whales, they were normal sized, but they were by far the biggest things with which we’d ever swam. They pirouetted around one other in a big helix, gently caressing each other with their long fins. They seemed quite aware and unconcerned that we were at the surface watching them. We had to back out of the way to let them surface. They leveled off and gently broke the surface just enough to get their blowholes above the waves. I’ve never seen the below water part before. It’s big. Then they pumped their flukes and effortlessly pulled ahead of us.

Just after we lost sight of them, we spotted them circling back to us. It was as if they were saying “Why didn’t you follow”. Yay! They did some more showing off for us and even did a few fin and fluke slaps for us. Then they started to get a little bit breech-y and Mindy had us back off. You do not want to have a boisterous whale land on you.

We returned to the boat and shadowed them for a bit. When they calmed down, we went back in with them and got to spend the few minutes before sunset just hanging out with them. Then they effortlessly pulled away and went wherever whales go at night. Back in the boat again, Rami raced us back to Begonia so he could get the dive boat out of the water before it got really dark.

We're finally in the water with Humpback Whales!

Wow! We had gone ashore for the last time and were less than 20 hours from leaving and we finally saw whales! All of it was because Rami was kind enough to speed over at the end of the day and collect us on his own time. We couldn’t thank him enough.

We found out where those whales went. At 0330, I was in a brief period of wakefulness when I heard a very large spout right next to our berth through the open hatch above our heads. Then there was the dripping of water, presumably off of the flukes and then the gurgling sound of the water closing in behind.

No comments: