Niue, you're a rock star!

Niue. Ever heard of of it? ME NEITHER!! That is not until I was doing a wee bit of #instastalking (my secret skill) and I stumbled some accounts whose photographs beguiled me with their beauty. Seeing it for real though knocked me for six. I gotta say for a tiny speck in the middle of the ocean it packs a bloody big punch.

If you want to find it on a map, take a stab somewhere between the Cook Islands and Tonga and you won’t be far off. Niue is a raised coral atoll,

which pretty much means that it is just a huge rock made of dead coral. Most people simply call it 'the rock'. Not sounding terribly attractive?

Au contraire mon ami, Niue brings the goods.

It is a south pacific island like no other. It’s raw, it’s rugged, it’s wild. It is also relaxing, welcoming, calming and charming. Think jagged cliffs of coral that plunge into the ocean below. Picture a coastline dotted with mysterious limestone caves, chasms and sheltered coves where you can get up close and personal with all manner of marine life.

Around the island are sea tracks that lead to all sorts of delights - spectacular caves, tidal swimming holes and jungle that threatens to reclaim the

island, just to name a few. To get to the water you are going to have follow one of these tracks down a cliff. That might be in the form of steps,

ladders, or some sort of path. What goes down then has to come up. Fortunately none of this is too strenuous, and you can take your time on the

climb back up. Pretend you are stopping to take in the view, nothing at all to do with catching your breath…

We did not have time to do all the sea tracks, not even close. Here are some of the ones we did do, with the more well known ones having been

graded difficulty wise by Niue Tourism. As you can see the majority are graded ‘easy’. Phew. Many thanks to the god of unfit middle-aged women.

Avatele Beach (easy) A popular beach with locals and easy to get to. You can swim and snorkel here, and it has public toilets.

Rock Pools at Vaila, Alofi North (easy) These rock pools are contained within a marine protected area and offer fantastic snorkelling. Best one hour either side of low tide.

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Amanau Sea Track An easy walk down that did involve a small ladder followed by some scrambling over rocks to get to the most beautiful swimming hole. It was framed by lush greenery and full of tiny iridescent blue fish. We had this place to ourselves the whole time we were there.

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Matapa Chasm (easy) An easy peasy walk through the rain forest to this sheltered swimming hole. Surrounded by cliffs and fed by a fresh water spring it was once

reserved for bathing by past kings. Great snorkelling at any time, but be warned…because it is fresh water it is f-reezing!

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Hikutavake Sea Track (moderate) Just south of the track to Matapa Chasm, this sea track starts next to the ANZAC memorial. Low tide is the best time to go, offering two large

snorkelling pools cut off from the ocean. Another favourite.

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Tautu Sea Track, Liku (easy) To get to this sea track you have to drive around the local village green. An easy walk followed by some steps down through a cave.

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Hakupu Sea Track Spectacular rugged coastline, but the end of the track was covered in white wash on this day, so no swimming for us! It was enough to just stand

there and take in the view. The track to Anapala Chasm runs off this sea track.

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Avaiki Cave (moderate)

Possibly my fave. This could have something to do with the fact that the second time we went the sun was shining. Everything looks better with a bit of sunshine sprinkled on it. Once you have reached the water turn right and head towards another huge cave that does absolutely nothing to give a hint of the wonder that lies within. The most beautiful pool that was once reserved for kings. Ah it must have been good to be king. The colours are amazing. Then there is is all the surrounding reef to explore, with little swimming holes full of tropical fish. They do say visit at low tide, so this of course is when it is most popular. In saying that though there was only one other couple there. We also went one day 90 min before low tide and had the place to ourselves; we were still able to do some reef walking and swimming in the pools.

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Palaha Cave (moderate) A short walk to limestone formations and small pools to snorkel in at low tide. This walk can get very slippery in the cave so be careful.

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Hio Beach (moderate) This is a small white sandy cove that is good for swimming, and it has some of the only sand on the island. At low tide there is access to a cave. After the walk back up stop for some refreshments at the Hio Cafe, the only watering hole this end of the island and run by a lovely local family.

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Uluvehi Sea Track, Mutalau (easy) You can mostly drive to the end of this one. There is a canoe cave on the left and some nice little pools to explore at the bottom. Great views of the

ocean. It was once used as a landing site by trading schooners and in 1863 traders of a different kind came ashore - Peruvian slave traders carried

away 109 young local men to be put to work in the guano mines of Chile. None ever returned.

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Limu Pools, Namukulu (easy) The colours. The fish. The sparkling water. Simply beautiful. This is a mixture of salt and fresh water so it’s quite refreshing and it is definitely unique. An absolute must. Best to visit on an incoming mid tide on a still day.

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Togo Chasm, Liku (hard) One of the more adventurous walks, and everyone should do it once if they are capable. The track starts by meandering through the bush, and then descends through black coral pinnacles, tall and jagged. You would not want to fall on this track! Climb down a rather daunting ladder to the chasm where there is fine sand and a cave towered over by coconut trees. There is nowhere to swim here, so after a quick look around it is time to head

back up. It’s worth it for the scenery alone, the whole area is like something from ‘the Land before Time’. They say allow 2 hours, however we were in and out in just over 1.

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Anapala Chasm, Hakupu (moderate to hard) After a walk through the rain forest it is 155 steps down to this fresh water chasm. It was once a main source of fresh water for the local village with

residents collecting it in coconut shells.

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Of course there are many more sea tracks to discover and explore, these are just a taste of the adventure that awaits. We spent every day exploring

above and below the water, even though it was not the best weather. The water is supposed to be the clearest in the world. Visibility can reach 100

metres and does not fall below 30 metres. This is due to the fact that Niue has no lakes or streams and water quickly filters through the porous

limestone into the ocean below. So whether you are swimming in a cave or snorkelling in the ocean, the water really is crystal clear. There is no other way to describe it. Or maybe there is. As I overheard one Gen Y’er say ‘the water is so clear it’s like, totes see-through’.

Aah Niue. You bewitched us with your beauty and we fell completely under your spell. If you are after a tropical island that is original,organic and full of adventure then Niue is calling you. If you are after an island escape that is full of 6 star cookie cutter resorts, bars and high-end boutiques then Niue is probably not the place for you. But allow me to throw down the gauntlet. Give it a go. The friendly people, breathtaking views and mother nature will do their best to win you over. I can guarantee once you have returned home just the very thought of it will lower the blood pressure.

TIPS and PRACTICALITIES

* Be sure to grab one of the free island guides they hand out on arrival. Invaluable.

* You are going to need to hire some form of transport, whether that be pushbike, scooter or car. For us that meant a car as it had the double bonus of air con and shelter from the tropical rain. Plus climbing up and down the cliffs was enough for us; adding a pushbike to the mix would have done us in. Although if bikes are your thing the roads are flat.

* Do not park your hire car under a coconut tree. (rookie mistake #1)

* Do not park your car too far off the side of the road if you can not see what is under the long grass. Those jagged pieces of coral that can rip the

underneath of your car to shreds are hidden where you least expect them. (rookie mistake #2)

* When driving, chickens and uga (google it) have right of way.

* When driving wave to everyone you pass. Everyone. Because they will wave to you.

* The ring road around the island is about 64km in total. It’s worth doing the drive around just to get your bearings, and of course to see the local

villages. Lots of the buildings have an air of abandonment about them, as more locals leave to live in New Zealand.

* You will need reef shoes. No ifs no buts. Oh I know they are fugly but they are an absolute necessity to get to the tidal pools, and any other form of footwear will not cut it.

* Lots of activities available apart from snorkelling - fishing charters, various island tours, diving, kayaking etc

* Don’t even think about winging it accommodation wise. You will need to pre-book before you arrive. Lots of options to choose from, ranging from

resort style to cottages to backpacker. We opted for Namukulu Cottages. They are clean, they are cool and they are cosy. They are also self contained which is handy as there are not a lot of eating options on the the island, and it was nice to be able to cook for ourselves at times. The cottages have a beautiful view and a pool, and we had no hesitation in leaving it unlocked for the day. We would definitely stay there again.

* There are no ATMs on the island, and NZD is the currency used.

* The only airline that flies there is Air New Zealand out of Auckland. Twice a week during peak season, otherwise only once a week. They do

periodically have specials for these flights so keep your eyes open and set up alerts.

* Do not be late for your return flight. If the plane arrives early it leaves early. It has a strict one hour turn around time.

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