The sky is marbled blue and white as small, puffy trade wind clouds dance across the horizon. Our 33-foot catamaran Imani
makes its way across the vast Pacific Ocean, slowly approaching the Philippine Islands in the South Pacific. As we move forward on our journey, we cannot help but continue to look back and reflect upon where we have been on our tour of this part of the world since leaving San Francisco, and where we definitely intend to return. Located 585 nautical miles west of Rarotonga, Cook Islands and 280 nautical mileseast of Va'va'u, Tonga, the lone island of Nuie holds such a distinction.
Our crew of four, myself, Marc, Tristan, and Maya approached Nuie (pronounced Nu-way by the locals) on an overcast summer day. Upon first sight, the island is not very impressive. There are no sharp peaks, or one feature remotely volcanic about it—in fact its shape reminds me of a loaf of bread jutting out of the ocean. There are no idyllic bays or endless beaches of white sand. No, none of the above is evident as one looks to the land from the sea through binoculars when approaching the one and only anchorage of Nuie, Alofi. Yet, surprises do await the cruiser who makes the effort to stop here.
Nuie is one of the world's largest raised coral islands and it has the finest coastal limestone crevices and chasms in the South Pacific—all are unique and most are easily accessible. Yet, the island is also a tropical wonderland with coconut trees, orchids, frangipani, and bougainvillea everywhere. The waters surrounding Nuie are amazingly clear. Swimming off the boat in the anchorage, we had at least 100 feet of visibility with some of the healthiest coral we have ever encountered fringing the coast, all of it ready to be explored.
When approaching the anchorage off the main village of Alofi, contact the Nuie Yacht Club on VHF 16 and they will direct you to an available mooring. This year they had 17 very strong, well-maintained moorings available to the cruising fleet on a first-come-first-served basis. The anchorage is an open roadstead that is very deep and offers only limited anchoring opportunities aside from the moorings. Our mooring was in 97 feet of water, yet the water was so clear we could easily see the concrete block and chain of the mooring from the surface.
Once Imani was secured, it was time to check in, go ashore, and let the adventure begin! As we all turned to the land and watched other dinghies going to shore, we stared like a deer caught in a car's headlights. On the shore, waves washed up on a concrete jetty that had a large wall with wide stairs cut into it. We watched other cruisers approach the stairs, latch their dinghy to a large hook, and hoist the dink into the air on to the jetty with a large electric winch that is permanently stationed there.
"Wow, Tristan said. "Pop are we going to do that to our dinghy, too?"
"Yes, we are. Let's go to work to make the bridle for the dink," Marc replied.
Our first landing was not nearly the fiasco I had envisioned. Actually, the way the winch is set up, this isn't that difficult an operation and it allowed us to all look like pros after the first couple of times of lifting and launching the dinghy. When you lower your dinghy down to the jetty, you first lower it onto a flatbed trolley. This allows you to actually park your dinghy in the dinghy parking space lined on the pier that the port authorities have provided to make sure there is space for all the dinks. The kids really loved dinghy parking.
The port captain, custom officials, and immigration are very easy to deal with. With less that 2,000 people on the island Nuie is a very personable place. Captain Cook first visited Nuie in 1774 and he named it Savage Island because of the hostile reception he received from the warriors that made up his welcoming committee, complete with red painted teeth. Yet savage is the last term we could ever imagine calling these wonderfully open people. The Nuieeans are very friendly, often stopping you as you walk along the road to offer rides. And we found them curious and interested in where we'd been and what had brought us to their island country. Today Nuie is in free association with New Zealand and most inhabitants speak English and Nuiean.
|"Yet savage is the last term we would ever use for these wonderfully open people."|
As we explored the main village of Alofi we made two great discoveries:finds 1) The Nuie Internet Users Society provides free Internet access between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. every weekday; and 2) what became our favorite restaurant, Ciao's, which has a traditional Polynesian buffet dinner with a touch of Italian influence. If you're in the area, the restaurant makes for a wonderfully adventuresome meal.
We rented a van with fellow cruisers Bill and Marion from Moonhunter and the Schneider family on Flyer, and together cavorted about the island, climbing through the Togo coral pinnacles. We found a beautiful sandy oasis complete with cococut palms. Descending into the bottom of the Anapala Chasm, many in our group jumped in a pool of fresh, cool water. From here, it was on to the Limu pools, on the north coast for swimming and snorkeling in and out of caves among vibrantly colored coral and fish, and even some tiny sea snakes. After this it was on to the Talava Arches, which Captain Cook described in his journal as a variety of curious caverns. There are so many natural wonders to explore that before we knew it, two weeks had passed.
Most of these wonders are very easy to reach in Nuie. Tracks and trails are well maintained and the stairways that get you down into the chasms are well constructed. Nuiee offers plenty of exploration for those of all levels of physical fitness. Many of the more difficult sites like the Viakona Chasm can be accessed with a guide.
The morning after our van rental we awoke to the sound of whoosh and then a giant splash. We all jumped out of bed to see a mother humpback whale and her calve, leaping and sounding among all the boats in the anchorage. Marc immediately threw on his swimsuit, mask, and jumped in. The visibility was so good that he could see them both 100 feet away. The whales were not spooked, allowing him to respectfully swim just a little closer to them. The mother dove under him to get a closer look at this curiosity. Marc could see her eye as she swam by him and she seemed to wave her fin in a leviathan greeting as she continued on her way. Marc came back to the surface and whooped a cry of sheer joy as Maya and others entered the water to share that joy and see that sight—Nuiee means adventure at every turn.
What We Learned Sailing the Pacific by Doreen Gounard
Keeping it Simple by Doreen Gounard
Preparing to go Offshore by Sue and Larry
Buying Guide: Binoculars