Niue: Play hard in savage terrain

By Andrew Louis

Andrew Louis works up a sweat amid rugged scenery.

Andrew Louis paddles a traditional outrigger canoe in Niue's crystal-clear waters. Photo / Andrew Louis
Andrew Louis paddles a traditional outrigger canoe in Niue's crystal-clear waters. Photo / Andrew Louis

Captain Cook named it "Savage Island", but I'm sure he must have been referring to Niue's harsh, unforgiving terrain rather than the natives.

Today, "Adventure Island" might be a more suitable name. Niue is a huge, volcanic rock with steep, razor-sharp cliffs to the east and beautiful coral reefs to the west.
niue
There are no long, white sandy beaches like on other Pacific Islands, and no lakes or rivers. There are no malls, McDonald's or KFC outlets. They do have WiFi and TV, but only four channels.

Here, even the fresh water is hard. Any rainfall disappears through a thick layer of limestone rock, creating an underground water lens with enough fresh water to supply the whole island for seven years. There are many caves on the island to explore - use a guide for the bigger ones. They are full of stalagtites and stalagmites, so make sure you take a torch.

Today, I'm joining a training ride with Niue's mountain-bike team who are hoping to compete in next year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

The leaders are Willy, who also owns cafes and runs various tours; Alan, a former weight-lifter who switched to cycling after a back injury; and Rick, a Canadian who is building a house here.

When I meet the rest of the team - three Niuean teenage lads - they arrive in true island style: they're late and have no helmets or water. One guy has a bottle but it's empty, and he's wearing jandals. I feel over-equipped with my hydration pack, helmet and full-finger gloves.

We start off down the main ring road and turn up a small incline to the central plateau. Even though it's a sealed road it's still littered with potholes. The terrain is not difficult (Niue's highest point is just 68m) but the guys set a very fast pace. The only time they stop is to let me catch up, and when I do they turn down an "off-road" section - a dirt access road.

The air is hot and there is no wind. Sweat is pouring down my face. Thankfully my chain comes off - I can finally take a breather.

At the end of the track, I see Alan waiting for me. We take a shorter route and meet up with the others back at the main road. Bike tracks are well-signposted and it is hard to get lost.

Each year, Niue has two cycling events: the Rockman Triathlon in November and Rally of the Rock during Queen's Birthday Weekend.

I also try my hand at paddling a vaka, a traditional wooden outrigger canoe, light enough for one person to carry down to the water. But unlike modern canoes, you sit on top of, rather than inside it. This makes it easier to dig the paddle into the water and get a longer stroke.

I paddle through a small channel out to the reef, where the water is crystal clear and full of fish.

These are just two ways to enjoy this beautiful island while working up a sweat. But amidst scenery like this, it doesn't feel like hard work.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand runs a twice-weekly service from Auckland to Niue.

Further information: niueisland.com.

Andrew Louis travelled as a guest of Niue Island Tourism.

- NZ Herald

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