It was an honour to be part of a special occasion on Niue, writes Clarke Gayford.
Just when I thought I had a good handle on Niue Island along came a special experience to remind me just how much there is to be discovered in the Pacific.
Like lots of other tourists now in on the secret, I am a Niuean repeat customer, jumping at any opportunity to escape back to "The Rock". However, unlike a couple of tourists I've met who have actually growled me for telling others about this place, I can't help myself when it comes to describing a Pacific destination that stands out all on its own.
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For a holiday, I describe the island as the perfect place for a semi-adventurous couple, looking to spend a week exploring. Seven days is about perfect to get out around the island from your base each day. With a bit of dedication you are able to pick off nearly all the well-signposted walking tracks, each leading to a new and different discovery, from caves, to lookouts, to ancient royal swimming holes and postcard shaped arches. One track you might find yourself stumbling on a sea snorkelling spot, the next an underground cave, filled with freshwater pools ready for those brave enough to swim into.
The shortest track is just several minutes, the longest an hour, and most are appropriate for all skill levels, but make sure you take good shoes, the rocks here are razor sharp.
Days' end are usually spent swapping stories with other tourists about where you've been and where you are headed tomorrow.
Although, geographically, Niue island is significantly larger than Rarotonga, it's the inverse with population, where it is just a 10th of the size. It still remains one of the only Pacific islands I have driven around where it's easy to cruise for miles without seeing another soul, except usually for that doppelganger tourist couple you keep bumping into every day. The islands are strange like that.
Of course, the Island is one thing, but to really understand its pull for me, you need to get out on and under the water. There aren't many islands anywhere in the Pacific where you can take yourself for a snorkel out over the reef's edge from shore. It's possible in several places here but the standout for me is Avatele beach (pronounced Avasele).
Here it's possible to see hundreds of different marine species in just the small lagoon out front, but brave the channel (and a bit of care is needed as a current can run) and you are soon drifting out, along blue reef edges, where all sorts of things can swim by, and frequently do.
On my last trip to Niue I was also lucky enough to be invited along to an island custom I won't ever forget, marking a couple of young boys coming of age with a special haircutting ceremony. Their first-ever hair cut is an exercise that includes the whole village. Two brothers, Kensei and Khanden from the Tuapa village, were having a combined celebration. Dad Haydon and mum Felicia had been planning it for more than 12 months, and planted three paddocks of taro in anticipation. No small affair, 87 pigs were butchered, as well as countless, chickens, fish and other contributed goods. Now fascinatingly, this isn't for a feast to end all feasts. The food is actually divided up into descending sized piles. Then each person who attends donates money to the boys coming of age, the funds set aside for their family's future. With a list of contributions tabled, the goods are divided up depending on how much you gave. The boys' hair, which has been plaited into many strands, is then cut by family members and special guests called to the stage to help. The boys are adorned in blankets and cash contributions. It's a big deal and ceremonies like this can raise northwards of $80,000, being best described as a type of community banking, as the boys' parents will be expected to contribute to other haircutting ceremonies in the village before and after.
It was a special occasion that I felt honoured to be a part of, serving as yet another demonstration of just how unique each of our Pacific Island neighbours are.
Clarke Gayford hosts Fish of the Day, returning to Three tonight at 5.30pm.