Niue – A Cruiser’s Visit September 2011
Published 12 years ago, updated 4 years ago
The following information is provided to help cruisers visiting Niue (NEW-way). This information is based on two U.S.A. citizens on the 42-foot catamaran YOLO (You Only Live Once) with no pets.
If you sail the South Pacific we strongly suggest you spend a few days at Niue, which is centered between the Cook, Samoa, and Tonga islands. Niue is a small island nation and is very unique in many ways. It is one of the largest uplifted coral islands in the world and offers excellent tunnel, chasm, cave, and arch exploration. The waters are crystal clear and you can watch the fish 30 meters down. During our stay whale watching was popular, with several large Humpbacks swimming right through the mooring field at dusk. And, large pods of Spinner dolphins frequently visit the west coast. Niueans are very friendly and love to get you involved in conversation and local traditions. Before you know it you will be learning to weave a basket, writing down a new recipe, or balancing a pile of free fruit in your arms.
There are eight Fish Attraction Devices (FADs) in Niue waters. FADs are marked with a large sausage-shaped orange buoy. Attached to the buoy are numerous smaller buoys, a large underwater fish cage, and fish platforms. The exact location of the Fads is ever changing since they are anchored to the seabed with extremely long lines. One local fisherman noted that some of the FADs move around a 1.5-mile area because of the wind, waves, and currents. During the day keep your eye out for the FADs. If approaching Niue at night stay greater than 3nm off-shore to avoid the FADs. If you approach the Alofi anchorage at night, steer 90 degrees True and you will avoid the two FADs on the east coast.
They don’t call it “The Rock” for nothing…we would NOT recommend anchoring anywhere near Niue shorelines. While snorkeling at Alofi we observed very few zones with small amounts of sandy bottoms. Most of the ocean beds were scoured rock or broken up coral. Expect the water to be over 20+ meters deep several hundred meters from shore. The Alofi anchorage/mooring field is located at 19 degrees 02 minutes South and 169 degrees 55 minutes West.
Just about every yacht visiting Niue rents a mooring ball from the Niue Yacht Club, which is one-of-a-kind. If you decide to become a permanent member of the yacht club it costs only $20NZ, which basically covers the cost of making your official membership card. The NYC members who live on the island have no boats, there is no clubhouse since the last cyclone washed it away,(The Niue Yacht Club has new premises at the Niue Backpackers buildings 300 metres south of the wharf.Ed.) there are no docks, and their worldwide membership exceeds the number of citizens living on Niue! The volunteers who manage the yacht club (Sue, Keith, Mamata, Jim, Brian, and Ira) hang out at Robert’s Wharf or the at Niue Backpackers in Alofi. Hail the NYC on VHF Channel 16 for immediate helpful assistance.
The yacht club has about 20 super-strong professionally made moorings at Alofi. Each mooring is attached to one or more 4.5-ton concrete blocks, has a 24mm polyester line with stainless steel thimbles, and a large orange buoy with reflective tape. The moorings were made in 2010 and are inspected at least once per season. The moorings are removed from the water November through early April for cyclone season. Two of the moorings are located just northwest of the wharf and the others are southwest of Robert’s Wharf. We, and many other vessels, experience winds in excess of 25 knots from the west while on the NYC moorings. The winds and three-meter waves certainly made our boat bounce, yet the moorings held without any problems. FYI, make sure you use two or more bridle lines from your boat to the mooring. During our wild 24 hour ride, several anchors on mono-hulls cut through their bridle lines and put their yachts at risk. Moorings rent for $15NZ per night with your seventh night free. We very seldom stay at a marina or pay for a mooring, yet when visiting Niue renting a mooring is worth every penny.
Give the Niue Yacht Club $20NZ and you will get a key to the two toilets/large wash basins/hot showers on Robert’s Wharf. You will get your money back when you return the key. The yacht club/backpacker office has a large free book exchange and sells NYC T-shirts, local produce, cold beer, pop, and coffee. Bring your laptop and use their free WI-FI. Most yachties hang out at the office in the later afternoon and solve world problems. For more information on NYC go to www.nyc.nu
There is a large sausage-shaped orange mooring buoy northwest of Robert’s Wharf. This is owned and rented by the local fisherman’s association for $25NZ per night. This large and super strong mooring is used by large commercial ships, large fishing vessels, and mega yachts.
Every couple of months a large commercial supply ship visits Niue for several days. During its visit, all vessels moored northwest of Robert’s Wharf and on the two moorings just southwest of the wharf must move to the moorings further south of the wharf. Large steel shipping containers are transported from the cargo ship to/from the wharf from 0730 to sunset via an aluminum barge. During this time access to the dinghy dock is restricted. You can only lift your dingy into or out of the water when the shuttle barge is not using the wharf.
The large and high concrete wharf (Robert’s Wharf) at Alofi is the only place to land a dinghy. During calm seas it is a snap, during strong winds from the west it is scary at best and very dangerous for all parties.
Dinghy docking procedure: All dinghies and local vessels must be hoisted into and out of the water, no exceptions. Approach the wharf on the south side. At the east end near the mainland, there is a cutout with a wide set of stairs (which are VERY slippery) going to the top of the wharf. Tie your dinghy to one of the cleats at the base of the steps, tilt your engine out of the water, and attach your dinghy’s heavy duty lifting bridle to the large crane hook, get out of the dinghy, untie your dinghy from the cleat, and grab the electric crane control unit which is located at the base of the crane on the top of the wharf. Press the Up button to hoist your dinghy out of the water. Position the large flat aluminum dinghy dolly provided by the Niue Yacht Club under the dinghy and/or swing your dinghy and the crane arm to the point where you dinghy is above the dinghy dolly. Press the Down button to lower your dinghy onto the dinghy dolly. Remove your dinghy lift bridle from the large steel hook. Push or pull the dinghy dolly to an open spot on the wharf and slide your dinghy off the dolly onto the ground. Push the large crane hook off the south side of the wharf and lower it to one meter off the waterline for the next incoming dinghy. If you start and stop the electric crane numerous times within a brief period of time it will overheat and stop working. And, this is really going to piss off numerous cruisers, fishermen, and dive groups.
You can request permission to enter the port when you approach Niue. Call“Niue Radio” on VHF Channel 16. It is very unlikely that you will get a response. If you do, you’ll be directed to change to channel 10. We couldn’t hear them on that channel, though. It appears that the lady who handles the Niue Radio VHF traffic uses a low power hand-held unit while she travels around the island. Niue Radio may respond during government business hours, and never at night, on Sunday, or during holidays. (See comment from Niue YC below).
It is necessary when you get to the Alofi anchorage and secure a mooring ball, to call Niue Radio on Channel 16 to make clearance arrangements. VHF Channel 10 is Niue Radio’s working channel. Good luck. No clearance agent is required.
Contact Niue Radio to set up an appointment with the clearance officials. You are responsible for getting to the large concrete wharf in Alofi to meet the officials. Keep in mind that launching a dinghy and hoisting it to the top of the wharf takes extra time, especially if a swell is entering the anchorage or there are strong westerly winds.
Customs (Chamb Pita), Agriculture/Quarantine (Colin Etuata), and Health (Sione Hetutu) representatives will meet you at the wharf and have you fill out the clearance paperwork. Our passports, ship’s papers, and exit papers (zarpe) from the last port-of-call were reviewed. Funds were not required to check-in. After these three government agencies have completed their paperwork they will drive you several blocks to the Police Station where the Chief Of Police acts as the Immigration Officer. Once cleared-in you are permitted to stay for 30 days or less without any Immigration fee. Our clearance was done in a timely and professional manner.
Normal Government Business Hours
With few exceptions government, offices are open 08:00 to 16:00, Monday through Friday, and closed Saturday, Sunday, and holidays. Customs officials will NOT process your clearance paperwork after 10 AM on Fridays. The only plane that visits Niue does so on Friday afternoons, so the Customs officials are at the airport. Then they leave the airport for a long weekend at home. If you arrive on Friday afternoon, Saturday or Sunday, plan on clearing-in Monday morning. If you want to clear-out Friday afternoon, Saturday, or Sunday, make arrangements Friday morning. The Police Station (Immigrations) is closed for lunch from 12:00 to 13:00.
Walk to the Police Station and meet with the Chief of Police. He will stamp your passports, and place a phone call to the Customs department. Customs will drive and meet you at the wharf, Police Station, or Niue Yacht Club. It is the roll of the dice where you will meet and the Chief of Police will tell you where to wait for Customs. Sometimes Customs completes the exit paperwork at your meeting site, or they may drive you to/from their office near the airport.
Sometimes done. If a large swell is entering the Alofi anchorage, there are strong winds from the north, south, or west, or you have a small dinghy it is highly unlikely that the officials from Customs, Agriculture, or Health will visit your vessel. I.e., if the weather is good and they don’t have much to do they will spend a few minutes completing arrival paperwork on your yacht.
You can pay for goods and services with New Zealand dollars only, all other currencies will be rejected. Niue does not have its own currency. Very few businesses accept VISA or traveler checks. MasterCard is not accepted anywhere on the island. Offering a personal check at the supermarket resulted in a hardy laugh. Cash is king in Niue, with very few exceptions.
You should try to arrive at Niue with a fist full of New Zealand dollars. Once on the island, it is almost impossible to get a cash advance on your credit card, debit card, or ATM card. The local (singular) bank will SOMETIMES exchange foreign currencies. When they do, they charge a fee and discount the world exchange rate by about 20%! We observed several yachties stranded on Niue with no New Zealand currency, no way to get it, and no way to pay for goods and services. You must think outside the normal financial box to solve this monetary puzzle. There is no working ATM on the island.
Potential solutions… You might be able to exchange currency with a yachtie who is flush with New Zealand dollars. Sometimes the Niue Yacht Club has been known to give short-term New Zealand dollar loans to cruisers. Stroking the bank personnel and letting their financial world slowly perform a wire transfer sometimes works, given enough time and paying the high related fees.
Our solution… We contacted Niue Rentals (car rentals) and worked out the following deal for securing New Zealand cash. After speaking with Moka the supervisor, we accessed their web site at www.niuerentals.nu and paid $500NZ for a $45NZ car rental. A 5% tax was automatically added to the transaction, making the total taken from our account $525NZ. The payment was immediately made via our online PayPal account which created an automatic wire transfer from our checking account in our U.S.A. Bank. Within 10 minutes Niue Rental received the funds in their bank account from PayPal. Several minutes later while in the Niue Rental office we confirmed our car rental for two days later and received $500NZ in cash from the car rental agency. Niue Rental did not charge us a fee for this service but kept the $25 tax. FYI, PayPal’s foreign currency exchange rate profit was another 3%. We found this better than being penniless in Niue or begging the local banker to make 20%+ profit on their foreign currency exchange.
There no working ATM’s on Niue. Three ATMs sit in their shipping containers in Niue for activation at a later date, “when a high-speed connection is engineered and installed on the island.”
Amounts are in New Zealand dollars. As of mid-September 2011, the foreign exchange rate for $1.00 US dollar was $1.20 New Zealand dollar. The seldom offered exchange rates on Niue were considerably less than this, some as low as $1 USD for .96NZ. Nothing is paid up-front when clearing in.
When clearing out, $34NZ per person must be paid in cash just prior to departure (by airplane or private yacht) to Customs. After you have cleared out with Customs, go to the Niue Yacht Club and pay your $15NZ per night mooring fee. All parties gave us receipts. Don’t even think about slipping off your mooring lines in the middle of the night and sailing off without paying the fees noted above. One yachtie did so in the past, Niue put out the word in the South Pacific, the yacht was detained several countries down the line, and the yacht owner was required to pay a $2,000NZ fine plus his original fees! Justice served…
Seldom do the officials agree to work outside normal business hours. We were told that if they did there would be “additional charges”; how much we do not know.
Don’t plan on cruising the local Niue waters. For the most part, the shoreline is vertical rock, very few (tiny) beaches exist, and they are protected by rocky coral reefs. The deep waters provide no safe anchoring options.
NYC Commodore, Keith Vial, is a hoot to be with and provides island tours for arriving yachties. Call him at 4633 or on VHF Channel 16 at the Niue Yacht Club to make arrangements. Keith appears to know everything and everyone. His humor is infectious. FYI, Keith is the Niue Station Host for the Seven Seas Cruising Association.
While approaching Niue we were delighted to see two pods of Humpback whales breaching, tail slapping, and fin waving. We also saw the large family of Spinner dolphins off the northwest coast. While traveling in your dingy near Alofi you will see dozens of sea snakes in the water and maybe some sea turtles. The snakes are harmless to humans, feed on the ocean bottom, and come up for air every once in a while. We were told by a local that the snakes are very curious creatures and often seek out snorkelers for a closer view.
We felt that security issues were extremely low in Niue, be it day or night. In fact, crime must be outlawed completely on Sunday, since all 13 police officers have the day off! We spoke with one officer and he noted that every once in a while they write a traffic ticket and their jail hasn’t seen a prisoner in years. One of the Niueans referred to the seldom-used jail as “the resort…a place to go for an unlocked door, a good bed, and free meals.”
Most homes don’t have locks and sport open windows. Car keys are left in their ignitions, dinghies are never locked, and bikes stay put. Our rental car hatch didn’t even have a working lock in it! Even expensive tools, computers, and office equipment get left unattended and never wander off. As one local put it, “With only 1,600 people watching everything all the time, how could a stolen item ever get used or sold?” Ah…the good old days.
Niue does not have public transportation and you would really have to search for a taxi. We hitchhiked several places with ease. Seldom did more than three cars pass by without someone stopping to give us a lift.
Niue Rentals provides the least expensive car rental on the island. We rented a small four-door station wagon for $45NZ per day (includes insurance and real taxes). You must have a valid drivers license to drive the rental car, and the agency does NOT require a Niue Temporary Driver’s License which can be purchased for $22.50NZ at the Police Station (they make a great souvenir, though!). This car rental deal does not include fuel and our rental car started with only fumes in the tank. We added 10 liters of gasoline to the tank which covered our 110 km of travel. The main coastal road around Niue is mostly paved and is 64 km long. If you start at 0800 and focus on seeing the significant island highlights, you can experience the sites in one long day. Pack a lunch before you start unless you want to return to Alofi for a mid-day meal. There is virtually nowhere to purchase food or drink once you leave the west side of the island. Niue Rental is open 0800 to 1600, Monday through Friday. The gas stations are open 0800 to 1900 Monday through Saturday.
While self-touring the island we found the following “Seatracks” the most impressive and easy to access: Anapala, Togo, Tautu, Talava Arches, Matapa Chasm (a great place for a fresh and saltwater swim), Limu Pools, Hio, and Palaha. All tourist sites on the island are clearly identified with color-coded directional signs. For a detailed list of Niue activities and tourist sites go to www.niueisland.com
Historically, hundred of yachties visited Niue each year. However, the number of visitors have sharply declined in recent years. There has also been a mass exodus of locals from the island, especially after the January 2004 Cyclone Heta brought destructive winds and 30+ metre waves over the rim of the west coast! That is over 100-foot waves! While touring the island you will sadly observe hundreds of recently abandoned homes left by locals seeking a better paradise.
Only one commercial flight lands at Niue each week. The Friday afternoon flight brings in about 170 people from New Zealand, 10% of the passengers are locals. Most flights are full, so purchase your ticket well in advance. A round trip flight to Auckland is about $850NZ.
Next to the base of the crane on Robert’s Wharf is a fresh water tap. All water on Niue is drinkable spring water.
Behind and slightly south of the Swan Sons Supermarket is a home-based business that does laundry. The owner charges $25NZ per load. In each Niue Yacht Club bathroom on Robert’s Wharf is a large stainless steel sink for doing hand laundry (hot and cold water available). Hot water is heated by the solar panel on the roof.
Niue has internet service, though it was often slow (after the children get out of school) or down (at night). The Niue Yacht club provided free internet access at their location if you have a wireless computer. RockET Internet charges $25 for unlimited WI-FI access during your entire Niue stay (24/7). You can access RockETs server at their cafe, nearby, or several yachts with good WI-FI antennas had limited access from their boats on the moorings just south of the wharf. The techs at RockET support the island-wide system and appear to be focused on keeping their business connections up and functional, first and foremost.
Fuel is not sold dockside at Niue, instead, you must go to one of the two automotive gasoline (petrol) stations. At the top of Robert’s Wharf turn right or left on the main road and go about one mile to a gas station. Both stations sell gasoline and diesel. In a pinch, the Niue Yacht Club will provide you with fuel cans and transportation. Ali’s hardware store is located across the street from the southern gas station and sells/exchanges propane bottles. We do not know of any Niue source for filling gas containers. During our visit a liter of gasoline was $2.85NZ, that’s over $10USD per gallon. Duty-free fuel does not exist.
While clearing-in one of the officials noted that $12.50NZ was charged yachts for trash removal. We don’t know if all yachts paid the charge, nor do we know who collects the trash removal fee. All yachties drop their bags of trash in the large trash barrows 50 meters up the hill on Robert’s Wharf.
Power is 240 volts, 50 Hz. The electrical outlets match those found in the Cook Islands, Tonga, and New Zealand. It’s best to bring an adapter with you for US plugs as they may not have any available on the island for sale.
Goods and Services
Most stores are open from 08:00 to 16:00 Monday through Friday. A few businesses have evening and limited Saturday hours. All businesses are closed on Sunday. Restaurants post their unique hours. Only churches are open on Sunday.
Niue is basically a one village, one street, commercially-challenged nation. With only 1,600 residents and infrequent visits by supply ships, there isn’t enough mass to support many businesses, let alone competition. The taxpayers of New Zealand dump huge amounts of money to keep “The Rock” afloat, with over half of the Niuean adults working for the local government. Most Niue merchandise is expensive, surpassing the prices we observed in the Cook Islands and French Polynesia.
Alofi is the epicenter of Niue commerce. Walk up the Robert’s Wharf to the top of the hill and you will be at the main road which runs north (left) and south (right). Just about all commercial businesses are within several blocks in both directions. If you turn left you will see the laundry, the primary grocery store (Swan Sons Supermarket) and several blocks further Niue Rentals (the cheapest car rental business). Continue another mile to the north and you will see one of the two Niue gasoline stations.
If you turn right at the top of Robert’s Wharf you will observe the public toilets, Customs Bond Store (duty-free liquor), the bank (Bank of the South Pacific), RockET Internet, the Tourist Information Center (Hayden and his team), the local market/craft center, Police Station (Immigrations), several restaurants, and the Niue Backpackers/Niue Yacht Club facility. Continue another mile south and you will run into the other gasoline station and Ali’s Hardware Store. The small plaza that houses the bank has several gift shops, the Telecom office, and several small markets (which sell eggs and bread at reduced prices).
The fresh fruit and vegetable market is open on Tuesday and Friday from 0430 to 0830. Many items are gone by 0800…snooze you lose. The market offers lower prices and greater selection than the local stores. The small groceries often don’t carry the fresh produce the locals make available at the market and will tell you to go to the market to get them.
All prices are in New Zealand dollars. A small bottle of Coke was $3NZ, a loaf of bread was $4NZ (there are six bakeries on the island), and a can of beer at the Bond Store was $1.50NZ (at the grocery store it was $3.50NZ). $10NZ will buy you a dozen eggs flown in from New Zealand. A bag of salad greens at the yacht club will cost you $6.50NZ. Gill’s will sell you a chicken curry roadie for $4NZ and the good fish-N-chips meal for two people with four cold beers at Falala Fa Cafe will set you back $45NZ (hint, get there at 1830 when it opens).
Most things have a 13.3% local tax on them. Almost all merchandise we purchased included the tax in their listed price.
Niue is the local language and often spoken at home. English is the official language and is the only language used in all the schools. Everyone we spoke with was fluent in both languages.
Local Cruiser VHF Channel
None. The Niue Yacht Club and most cruisers monitor Channel 16 during daylight hours. If an emergency occurs, hail “Niue Radio” on Channel 16 and cross your fingers for a reply. If Niue Radio doesn’t reply, hail the Niue Yacht Club.
Do’s and Don’ts
No bikinis or speedos in public. Men should wear a shirt in public. Nudity is not tolerated in any public place. Sunday is a day of rest and prayer…no fishing, diving, business activities, or boating.
Stop by the Tourism Office in downtown Alofi. They will load you up with a ton of detailed Niue information. The Niue Yacht Club volunteers also offer local knowledge second to none.
Jason and Karen Trautz
S/V YOLO (You Only Live Once)
Response from Keith, Commodore of Niue Yacht Club on 28th September 2011.
“One concern is the lack of contact with Niue Radio. I don’t know what happened there, but Niue Radio on Ch 16 (Telecom Niue) has a contract to provide a 24-hour maritime radio service. In fact, Niue Radio is the first point of contact for Search and rescue in the South Pacific. the other headquarters is based in Wellington NZ.
If an EPIRB is triggered in the South Pacific, Niue and SAR Wellington receive the distress signal simultaneously.”