There are beautiful bonuses to Niue's biennial arts and cultural festival, writes Natalie Beran "It feels like whale watching weather!" We are two pretty optimistic tourists who know perfectly well it isn't (it's July to October).... " />

Niue: Exploring the rock

There are beautiful bonuses to Niue’s biennial arts and cultural festival, writes Natalie Beran

“It feels like whale watching weather!” We are two pretty optimistic tourists who know perfectly well it isn’t (it’s July to October). Niue’s whale watching season is months off when we visit, but we say anything to distract the Californians up front from again drawling “where is the T-shirt shop?”

Hima Douglas knows where to find them (both the whales and the T-shirts). Our guide on the Toamna Orientation Tour, he calls on his background in tourism and business to give us a detailed overview of the island’s history and culture. His in-depth run through of what to see and do, where to go and when to do it, confirms it’s going to be a busy week. The whales will have to wait.

The mini-bus tour includes areas of Niue coastline that were hit hardest by 2004’s Cyclone Heta and we see remnants of the village and hear about the hospital and museum that disappeared that day.

We cruise past abandoned fales, slowing to see churches, village greens and old school buildings. We wander along beautiful sea paths leading to chasms and giant rock pools perfect for snorkelling, and we take note of the best whale-watching vantage points. This is just the tip of the Rock and we can’t wait to get amongst it all.

Artist John Pule. Photo / Richard Robinson

“Niue is a soft adventure island. You can’t get lost. Sign posting and friendly locals will show you the way,” says Simon Jackson, Scenic Matavai Resort General Manager.

He’s right, there are signposts everywhere, with history, facts, myths and legends.

We are visiting for the biennial Niue Arts and Cultural Festival, a huge drawcard for tourists, locals and NZ-born Niueans who return to the island to experience the culture and catch up with family and friends.

The commercial centre in the main village of Alofi plays host to each evening’s festivities, and every event is free and open to the public. Audiences pour in for a packed festival programme of music, dance and culture, with this year’s focus being on Vagahau Niue — the Niuean language. We try our hands at weaving and carving, and delightful surprises include fashion and wearable arts, poetry and film.

But beyond the festival there is still plenty to see and do. Jackson’s other big tip is to “just explore, explore, explore”. And we do, hitting the road in our rental car, we easily make our way around the island, setting our own pace and stopping to check out each sea track we spot.

Passing through Liku Village, we spot a board set well back off the road: “Art Exhibition 2-4pm”. The path leads to a studio and we find New Zealand-born contemporary artist Mark Cross casually having a drink with friends on the veranda. This is the place of John Pule ONZM — Niue’s most famous artist and writer, whose work has been exhibited in Australia, South Africa, New York and more.

We are strangers, eager tourists and now art explorers, welcomed up the stairs into the studio to join the artists as they chat amid Pule prints and originals lining the walls.
There are plenty of other highlights. On Misa’s Nature Tour, we tag along behind Misa Kulatea, a wonderful elderly gentleman who grew up on the edge of the Niuean rainforest. He shows us fossils, caves suitable for sleeping in; we learn what indigenous plants you can eat, and snack on delicate spongy sprouted coconut and island fruits.

At Limu Pool, we understand what the locals mean by “gin-clear” water — the visibility and the variations of colourful fish to snorkel with are superb. Close to Talava Arches, we follow our swim with a decent trek through the forest, into caves, and past layers of rock.

They say each path ends in a surprise. In Niue each also ends at a uniquely stunning view.

Colourful quilts in Niue. Photo / Linzi Dryburgh

IF YOU GO

Getting there:

Air New Zealand

flies twice weekly from Auckland to Niue.

Staying there: Scenic Matavai Resort is Niue’s only full-service hotel. The clifftop resort has 180-degree Pacific Ocean views.

Events: The next Niue Arts and Cultural Festival is in 2019. There are other regular events — see niueisland.com/events.