Niue's slower pace has plenty to offer eco-adventurers, as Sophie Barclay discovers.
The empty roads of Niue, where large, music-blaring chicken buses are replaced by a sporadic car or an actual chicken, are ideal to explore on two wheels. The island is relatively flat, and smallish, with a 64km ring road, so it's the perfect way to travel. Indeed, each year in June the jungle-fringed road sees a flurry of activity: 20-odd bike-fanatics and keen locals battling for cycling supremacy in the Round the Rock race that completes one full lap of the country.
Held on Queen's Birthday weekend, (and preceded by Rally of the Rock, a mountain-bike rally along a series of inland bush tracks), the event is still relatively unknown. Fancy a crack at claiming an international cycling trophy? This could be your best shot before the hordes of lycra-clad tourists get wind of it. Start training this summer and you'll be fighting fit for a winter action getaway.
It's a great way to see the island and you'll have your own huge portion of Pacific-hospitality-on-a-plate, and deafening applause waiting for you at the finish line.
The race begins in the capital, Alofi, and winds along the western edge of the island, the former "Golden Mile" that was levelled during 2004's Cyclone Heta. Passing through sleepy villages, unusually absent of rooting pigs and noisy flocks of children, it's hard not to notice the roofless, vine-choked houses in varied states of dilapidation - a sign of the dwindling population as younger families head to New Zealand for education and job opportunities.
Don't expect idyllic, palm-lined sandy beaches on this reef-rimmed rock. Instead, cycling also offers a great opportunity to explore some of the sea tracks and natural pools dotted around the island. Take a day trip with a takeaway sandwich from one of Alofi's cafes (the Crazy Uga has unrivalled coffee), or overpriced, imported groceries from Swanson Supermarket, and head for secret, rock-encased bathing spots like the Matapa Chasm, a favourite of former Niuean kings. Here, in a dramatic cleft between two sharp, honeycombed cliff faces, freshwater meets the ocean in a sheltered, unbelievably turquoise blue pool leading to the reef.
Niue's lack of lakes or streams means water filters through the soil without runoff and mud, creating glassy visibility of around 70m - ideal for diving and snorkelling.
The easiest way to explore is with new-kid-on-the-block Magical Niue Sea Adventures. It offers electric, underwater scooters, taking you farther and deeper into the reef among the schools of acid-trip parrotfish, mackerel, giant snapper, electric-blue lined giant clams, slender needlefish and angelfish.
If you're lucky you might spot a turtle or a reef shark, and you'll definitely spot one of the endearing sea kraits. These shortsighted, curious snakes are fascinated by humans, and, despite being highly venomous, will rarely attack - even when provoked.
Buccaneer Adventures Niue Dive also takes groups out for snorkelling-cum-boat tour-cum-potential-spinner-dolphin-spotting (they were out when we called by), and is the sole dive operator on the island.
It also takes boatloads of hopefuls to see the most popular visitors to the island - the whales cruising past between July and October.
Of these, humpbacks are the most prolific, but you can expect pods of sei and enormous sperm whales that meander less than 100m off the shore on their way to Easter Island from Antarctica.
As the sun dips into the ocean, head back to base via one of the local watering holes to catch up on island news.
For such a tiny island, there are ambitious projects under way that Niueans are extremely proud of; the goal of 80 per cent solar electricity by 2020, the establishment of a global bee sanctuary to export varroa-free, healthy hives overseas, and village-level climate change initiatives to help the island face future cyclones and drought with resilience.
A perfect escape for those craving island-style relaxation and a dash of adventure, the island is fast earning its stripes as an ecotourism destination.
Get in quick before this jewel of the Pacific loses some of its uncharted charm.
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies nonstop from Auckland to Niue.
The writer travelled courtesy of Niue Tourism.