Nathan and partner Erin.

Our marine man visits Niue, one of the few places in the world where you can swim with whales.

WORDS / PHOTOS NATHAN PETTIGREW

I’d heard that marine life was right on your doorstep in Niue, so my partner Erin and I packed our bags and headed for the South Pacific island nicknamed The Rock.

Niue is one of the world’s largest coral islands, with a land area of around 260km². Its people are citizens of New Zealand, but the island is a self-governing state split into 14 villages, the capital of which is Alofi on the west coast. There aren’t any rivers or streams on the island, so no water flows into and clouds the crystal-clear ocean, making visibility amazing – up to 70m. And because of the incredibly deep drop-off just beyond the shallow reef, you can often see whales very close by.

Erin at Avaiki Cave.

We went for a week and stayed at the Anaiki Motel in the village of Makefu, just north of Alofi. It was the perfect place for us, for reasons including its fantastic pool overlooking the ocean. It became our cool-down spot and whale-watching platform, from which we sipped gin and tonics while watching humpbacks and spinner dolphins swim by. Total magic! The motel was also close to some of the best snorkelling spots on the island, including one of my favourites, Avaiki Cave.

Another favourite activity we discovered was dinner and drinks at Scenic Matavai Resort. Set high atopa cliff among lush tropical gardens, it often has live music in the evenings, and there’s plenty of space on the terrace to enjoy sundowners while you gaze at the marine life floating by.

A common sight among the reefs in Niue are sea snakes. Posing little threat to swimmers, these oceanic reptiles are beautiful to watch as they make their way to the surface of the water to breathe. You may even get lucky and see one preying on small fish.

Niue is renowned for rock formations that make arches, chasms and mermaid pools. There are adventures to suit everyone on these rocks, but one of our standouts was the Talava Arches in Hikutavake, with its amazingly pristine water, fish life and resident octopus. It’s a good walk – about 45 minutes – and you need to wear closed-toe shoes on the volcanic rock as it feels like sharp coral underfoot.

Don’t miss Washaway Cafe at Avatele Bay. When we pulled up outside, we saw what looked like a deep hole within the reef but later discovered was a large, tightly packed school of fish. They were huddled together like a huge ball of bait – and for good reason. It turned out that below the surface and intently following them were five huge fluorescent blue trevally. Every now and then, one would race through the bait ball and pick off a few fish.

The tranquil Limu Pools at Namukulu are great for less experienced snorkellers. It’s a short, steep walk to reach them from the road, so take a packed lunch so you can make a day of it. You won’t want to leave – this spot is absolutely stunning, and the currents are nice and gentle.

THAT’S A FACT
Flight: Three hours from Auckland.
Climate: 23-28°C year-round.
Best time to visit: Whale migration season is from July to October.

MARINE_LIFE_KAYAKER