Niue is an uplifted flat topped slab of coral aka limestone, not much more than 100m above sea level at its highest point. The coast is a limestone cliff some 20m high and then a few hundred metres inland it rises again to form gentle tree clad hills. Most of the 1,700 population live on the lower rim inland from the road that encircles the island. Tsunami evacuation signs are everywhere, basically directing you to the nearest track up the hill but apparently since they’ve been in place the alarm has only been raised twice and each time the locals have trotted off to the whale watching spots to look out for the incoming tsunami!
On Sunday we cycled some nine kilometres or so towards the north-west corner where several people we’d met had recommended the Matapa Chasm. “Take your snorkelling gear”. So we did and a picnic. A short walk down a shady tree filled canyon in the limestone brought us to a jumble of fallen rock, ducking under the big bit brought us up short; wow! I’m not certain what I expected but it wasn’t this – a hundred metres or so of inlet partially blocked off at the seaward end by both the reef that hugs Niue’s coast and more fallen rock. The result is a gigantic narrow rock pool deep enough for the water to be dark blue with the surf surging in over the far end and cliffs rising high on either side.
The amazingly clear water even by Pacific standards was very cold in parts, warm in others. The water here has very little if any sediment as all the rain reaches the sea by filtering down through the limestone, there are no rivers or streams. Ducking down the underwater view was shimmery almost as if your eyes had gone blurry; the cause was the mixing of fresh water from a spring at the waters edge with salt water entering from the ocean. Weird but incredible and the fish didn’t seem to mind, the water was teeming with very large colourful fish, some we’d not seen before. The pool was extremely deep and the water so clear that judging where it was shallow enough to stand up was difficult. After sitting on a ledge, feet dangling in the water, chatting to fellow tourists and getting chilly in the shady gully we reluctantly dried off and dressed.
Heading back towards Alofi we stopped for lunch at the Limu Pools, recommended by some of the Kiwis we’d just met at the chasm. Another short but steep trek down some “steps” brought us down to the shore again. Another wow moment – this time limestone and coral reef had combined to form a wide but shallower pool full of colourful coral, fish and stripy sea snakes (well only one that we saw and it was very shy, disappearing as soon as it spotted us). Being the only people there we stripped off and donned our clammy wet swimmers, reef shoes and snorkels once more. The aqua water was sun warmed and yet again fresh water rising from the bottom mixed in places producing weird optical effects.
Another couple joined us for a bit then the husband went off for an explore discovering another pool with a rock arch over its seaward end. We swam through the arch but the current was very strong beyond; Kevin who’d ventured further shouted back a warning and had a tough swim back whilst I hung onto a rocky outcrop waiting for a surge to carry me through the arch to the pool. Great fun but exhausting. We returned to the bench overlooking the original pool for our picnic, eating pasta salad without a spoon or fork (I’d forgotten to pack our sporks) was messy but another swim soon rinsed us clean.
A couple of kilometres along the road there was a sign with directions to a sea cave. Leaving the bikes under the sign we set off down a steep board walk and into the landward end of the cave. Stalactites and stalagmites had joined to form pillars (I’m sure there is a technical name for these but my geography O-level was a long time ago). A rope handrail helped to negotiate the edge of the cave, the main floor being pitted with wide circular holes was not easy to walk on. Around the corner was a view out over the reef flats to the ocean beyond.
The series of caves are a deep undercutting of the limestone cliffs. Rain trickling through the permeable rock had created the rock formations in colours from off white through black to yellow and brown. Another spectacular coastal feature on this tiny speck in the middle of the Pacific. Niue is well worth exploring and is a well-kept secret holiday destination that the Kiwi’s have been keeping to themselves – New Zealand being just a three hour flight away.