Friday, September 22, 2017

Maryanne's Birthdays in Niue

[Kyle]For Maryanne's Birthday, we decided to splash out and rent a car to fully explore the island for a couple of days; since the island has no Tiffany's and all that.

This, of course, meant that no photon of daylight would be wasted. We picked up the car the moment the place opened and headed for the north side of the island. Our first stop was Matapa Chasm. There, a deep swimming hole is bounded on both sides by high cliffs and protected from the ocean surge by a series of boulders at the entrance. As it was early and a little drizzly, we decided to pass up the swim and do the adjacent hike to the Talava Arches.

The hike to Talava was much longer and was over difficult sharp coral that demanded we always be looking at our feet instead of up at the jungle. After a long while, it descended steeply into an enormous cave, where ropes tied to columns of calcium carbonate led us through to the exit at the sea. There, the view opened up onto a large sea arch fronted by coral beds divided by shimmering pools of blue. It was too much for Maryanne to resist, so she jumped in while I explored the rocks and tide pools. Once we'd had our fill, we were back on the road for a circuit of the island.

Our next stop was at Uluvehi, where we found a series of caves high up in the cliffs. In the first one we found an outrigger canoe and then a long steep ramp all of the way down to the sea. At that end was what appeared to be the most treacherous place we have ever seen to attempt to launch or land a canoe.

Further down the coast at Liku, we missed the turnoff for some caves we wanted to see. No problem, we'll just do a u-turn in the middle of the main road and drive ten miles an hour until we find it, since we seemed to be the only car on this side of the island.

It turned out the bush road we wanted was on the other side of the town square. To get to it, just leave the road at any convenient spot, drive across the grass and look for the continuation of the track there.

We drove until I got too nervous about getting stuck, then I edged the car into the bushes to get it mostly out of the way and we switched to walking. It was good we did. The road got worse as it dove steeply down toward the water. There, we found a set of stairs leading through a cave and down to coral flats below. We could walk out on them and see the inhospitable coast for miles each way.

Next was Togo Chasm, billed as a must see and also the most difficult hike on the island. The hike started okay. It was flat jungle with lots of tree roots and rocks to trip over, so we had to keep our gaze firmly planted on the patch of trail immediately ahead. It then descended into a little gap between boulders, which then opened up into a wide view of the coast in both directions. Between us and the sea was a wide band of just about the most impenetrable terrain we have ever seen. It was a field of razor-sharp coral pinnacles jutting from their unseen bases towards the sky. It looked a little like the chaotic ice fields created by a glacier as it tumbles over a ledge. I could only think of that and perhaps actual molten lava that would pose a more effective barrier to further progress.

Fortunately for us, some kind, wonderful, hard-working, thoughtful soul had laid a thin concrete path by filling in the gaps between spires, so that it was actually possible to walk without wearing out our shoes in the first twenty feet. The path slowly descended along the winding line of least resistance for concrete pouring until it terminated at the top of a really tall ladder. The ladder descended into a deep chasm filled with sand and palm trees that almost, but not quite made it to the top. All four sides were bounded by high cliffs so although it otherwise looked like a tropical beach, the surf was conspicuously missing.

As we poked around looking at the accumulated debris of the coconut palms, we kept wondering aloud to each other how anyone had found this place in the first place. Since leaving the jungle, Togo Chasm seemed to be the first place big enough and flat enough to spend a night. It seemed unbelievable that, without the path, anyone could have traversed the distance in one day. Niue's rock is so porous and sharp and it's jungle is so thick with undergrowth that there must still be dozens or even hundreds of undiscovered caves and chasms on the island.

By the time we were finished at Togo, the tropical sun had turned the whole island into a steam room. I was so ready to be done, but it wasn't dark yet, and there were still beautiful sights to see, so we kept going.

Our next stop was Anapala Chasm. Like Liku, it was accessed by taking an unmarked turnoff, driving across the lawn at the Hakupu town square, and finding the least-improved looking bush road on the other side. The road we selected had been recently mashed flat by the tires of a big tractor. That was good. The tractor had also dug a deep trench right down the middle. That was bad. We had to drive very carefully to keep the trench under the middle of the car as getting a wheel in it would surely strand us.

They had filled the trench near the little parking area where we left the car. We took the short trail through the jungle to a set of concrete steps that led between two closely spaced cliff walls into the darkness below. About halfway down, we actually had to pause for a while to let our eyes adjust so we could see where we were stepping. At the bottom, the stairs ended at a long, thin pool of a size that would have made it perfect for swimming laps. The shade had kept the water just a tad on the cold side and the best thing was that the water was fresh and clean. I took about three steps, each accompanied by a gasp as the cold reached new heights, and then the bottom fell away and I was treading water. The day's heat vanished and the water instantly went from shocking to refreshing. It was marvelous to cool off and get a good fresh water rinse.

Despite my assurances that the water is wonderful once you're in, Maryanne's memory of my previous gasping were too fresh for her to want to try it.

The walls on either side rose in curtains and columns of calcium carbonate cave formations until bending away to some unseen opening. Even with only the small amount of light that had survived the winding journey to the water, I could clearly see the bottom sixty feet below. By holding onto the various crevices and with the aid of buoyancy, I could scale the wall along the pool as if I were a much more excellent free climber than I am. When I would get somewhere I couldn't traverse, I'd 'fall' and swim for a bit until I made it to the other end. There, a field of boulders rose to a thin patch of sky far overhead and crisscrossed by leafy branches. The story is that Anapala was once used as the source of water for a nearby village. Again, we had to wonder how anyone ever found it in the first place.

Feeling completely rejuvenated, we bounded back up the long staircase and were both surprised by how much shorter it seemed than when going down. Usually, it's the other way around.

We hit the road again. At the first switchback, which was kind of a steep, blind one, our right front tire fell into the trench in the middle. We were lucky we were on a steep slope. With some gentle help from reverse gear, gravity did most of the work of pulling us out. Whew! Next thing...

We continued on the coast road, stopping at a few of the beaches on the way. We ended at Scenic Matavai Resort, where we were going to be watching a talk about Uga, which is what Niueans call coconut crabs. It wasn't for a little while, so we walked the grounds and enjoyed the views from their expansive balcony. A passing staff member mentioned it was Happy Hour. It did seem like having a couple of umbrella drinks would be appropriate, especially considering that it was Maryanne's Birthday, after all. Happy Hour at the Matavai turned out to not be such a great deal. All drinks were double price instead of triple price. To be fair, that seemed to be their pricing structure for everything. With meals and all of the little extras, a couple like us could easily blow through $4,000 in a week-long stay. That's before doing anything off-site like diving trips. We are so glad to be sleeping in our own home and buying most of our food from the same grocery store the locals use.

The presentation turned out not to be about coconut crab, but instead to be a coconut husking demonstration. We knew how to husk a coconut, but we were there anyway, so we stayed. The presentation had a strong feel of being manufactured for this week's set of tourists. There was no practice involved or intent to impart any technique, just a quick,”Here's how we islanders open a coconut”. We did get to see some more advanced coconutry, though, which terminated in using the husk fibers to squeeze the yummy yummy cream out of the meat. I'd say we'll use the technique in the future, but we won't. It's way too time consuming.

Since it was Maryanne's Birthday, she got to choose from the island's selection of restaurants. She passed on all of the fancier options and decided to go for a place that had fish and chips. You can take the woman out of England...

Birthday Redux

Did I mention we had a car for two days?

That means we rose before the other 1,200 people in the country in order to get a good jump on the day.

We zipped back up to Matapa to have a morning snorkel. The heat of the day hadn't started yet, so the cool water was a bit less welcome than we had hoped. We then hopped back down the coast trying to stop at all of the places we had missed the previous day. Everywhere we stopped was different and all were beautiful. We had a midday pause in the fun when we got back to Alofi so we could use the car to get a load of heavy groceries to the dinghy. Then it was another trip to Anapala for a swim. This time, Maryanne partook and agreed it was indeed refreshing after the initial shock.

From there, it was back to Scenic Matavai for the buffet and fire dancing show, which we had pre-booked a week earlier. Again, the Matavai is beautiful, but we got the sense they have been doing this once a week for so long that they seemed like they weren't even trying anymore. The food was mostly okay and the fire dancing was over in ten minutes, which made releasing my grip on the credit card a little harder than usual.

Nevermind. At least I had good company. It was time to return the car (by leaving it parked in town with the key under the mat) and Maryanne promised we could sleep in the next day.

We rested and did boat chores for a day and a half after all of that. On one of our water runs, we bumped into Dona Catherina. They said they were leaving soon and only had one more tour. Would we like to come? This time, I was feeling reasonably better, so I wouldn't have to miss out on all of the fun.

Accompanying us was a group of local school kids all around late single-digit age. Again, we found no whales, but we did have a lovely afternoon sail along the coast. The kids were all well-behaved (they were under the supervision of an army of moms and aunties). I'm not sure any of them seemed to notice that there were no whales. They were so amazed at every single little thing about being on a boat – the flapping sails, the size of the wheel, every little deck fitting. It was nice to be reminded that it's not all maintenance and chores and that even a daysail is a big adventure.

Adults aboard - Group Shot By Lynsey Talagi
Photo Credit Lynsey Talagi and Oma Tafua

Later that night, when we got home, and after we'd uploaded all the pictures, Maryanne's computer decided to pack it in. One minute it was working and the next it was not. After going ashore and spending hours on the internet looking for solutions, she determined the most recommended fix was to download and reinstall the operating system. There was no way that was going to happen. At island speeds, the only way to do that would be to take the computers ashore, plug them in somewhere out of the weather, pay $600 and wait a month for it to upload. Perhaps when we get to NZ. {Maryanne: 'Fixing' our computer took hours of on and off effort over several days. I was terribly frustrated, not least at the fact that I'd been saying I should do a backup for days and simply hadn't found the time.. I was paying now. Ugh!}

We decided to to settle for changing out our hard drive and restoring it from a three-week old backup. That got us back up and running for the time being, but it meant we lost all of the pictures we had taken since Beveridge, including all of our best Niue photos. Auugh! Hopefully, we can get them back when we get the OS reinstalled.

Getting Ready to Go

The rest of our days in Niue, we spent preparing for our upcoming departure. We finished filling the water tanks and bought some last-minute perishables. We took one day to ride our bicycles a few kilometres to Limu Pools for a swim. On the ride back, we stopped at every single sea track and swam as necessary to stay cool in the afternoon heat.

Limu Pools

Hio Beach

Photo fun in the cave off Vaila Sea Track

Every sea tracks provides a stunning view
This one is by Mafeku village

We also made a point of making one last stop at each of our favorite eating establishments. We had dinner at Gill's. As the only Indian restaurant on Niue, they have no competition whatsoever, yet they still bother to make their food good enough to make themselves the most popular restaurant in any of the world's big city Indian districts. We also stopped by the mini-golf place, not for the golf, or even the food, but the amazing views of the harbor. At the next table were four guys finishing up a lot of beers. They had the used cans all neatly lined up in a 5x6 block. Close inspection revealed it to be 29 beers and a Sprite. They explained that one of the guys didn't drink.

“Do you mean to say that three of you drank all of that? How are any of you still standing?”

In fact, they seemed a little tipsy, but still in that friendly but not yet scary stage of drinking.

One amusing episode was when they went to pay. Both the customer and the proprietor were of that certain age when reading glasses are needed for the close work. As the credit card reader was handed over and the receipt produced, the two men kept handing the same pair of glasses back and forth to each other to use. They were doing it in such an unconscious way that I think Maryanne and I were the only ones who even noticed.

When the four friends left, we had a chat with the cafe's owner, Mark Blumsky, and learned that he was the former Mayor of Wellington, NZ! He had moved to Niue for the beauty and the slow quality of life, exchanging hectic policy meetings for selling beers in the tropical sunshine. He seemed pretty content. We felt like rock stars being served by the mayor turned barman... LOL.

Moving On

We took one last trip ashore in Niue to clear out, have lunch and use our last 500 bytes of internet, which is about what three computers combining forces for two hours can achieve. I am so sick of spending such a huge chunk of our time staring at useless computers that hardly ever allow us to get one meaningful thing accomplished.

After Customs collected us and the crews from three other boats to clear out, they drove us out to their offices. When Maryanne was getting out of the van, the driver shut the door on her hand. It was an accident, of course, so Maryanne was trying her hardest to act like no harm was done, but with her eyes squinted shut and her teeth involuntarily clenched, I could tell that it hurt a lot and that she must be holding back a particularly colourful string of proper English swearing. The woman told Maryanne to follow. We thought we were heading for the first aid kit in the employee break room, but instead were just shown to a roll of paper towels. We completed the paperwork while Maryanne kept trying to smile and not bleed all over anything.

When we were done, we had them drop us off at a restaurant that sells pizza. After the van pulled off in a cloud of dust, we found it to be closed. It was 11:47. We poked around for a while looking for any opening times posted, until the owner surfaced, saying they opened at 11:30.

We looked confused since by now it's already 11:50?

He then looked a little embarrassed and hastily opened up for us. When we told him we had come for the pizza, he said they only did that for dinner. For lunch, we could have sushi. We had really been working up a good pizza craving, so we sheepishly thanked him for opening for us and then left for the other place in town we heard had pizza. Oops.

The other pizza place in town were open but empty. When we tracked down the proprietress and told her what we wanted, she told us that pizza had to be made to order.

“That's fine”, we said. We weren't in a hurry. She then snipped that pizza had to be ordered a day in advance and shot us a look that made it clear she thought we were both idiots for not knowing that as it "had always been the policy"!

For some reason, even though I'm sure she needs it, we decided not to wait a day to give our business to the island's token Curmudgeon and moved on to plan C, an Indian lunch at Gill's. This had the added advantage of giving us something to do other than stare helplessly while our computers connected to the town center's grudging wifi signal. I'm starting to think sometimes it's better to be places where there isn't even the hope of internet. It's the hope that hurts.

1 comment:

Mommy Carla said...

So glad to see you’re back. I know you never left but that silence is dearly felt. I’m amazed you’re still alive after all those hikes, the only injury coming not from falling off a makeshift ladder down a cliff, but from having your hand smashed in a car door. Anxious to hear how maryanne’s hand is now.
Wonderful reading. Thanks for making my Sunday morning so enjoyable.
Sending love to you both.