Off the grid has a different meaning for everyone but regardless, those of us attracted to that phrase are in search of something a bit simpler. I didn’t go in search of an off the grid experience but I found myself having one in Niue and quite frankly it left me wanting for more.
Now don’t get the wrong impression I stayed at the lovely Matavai Scenic Hotel. Really nice, fresh accommodation with lovely staff, great views and comfortable surrounds. So why did I feel so off the grid? Well for one although a hotel the fanfare was lacking; no day spa, no flashy resort feel, basic wifi , no in house movie extravaganza or Netflix distraction– note to self although heavily tagged Netflix is not required to chill … did we forget that?? Maybe that’s the point; ‘off the grid’ is just a disconnect from all the things we’ve come to expect.
So where is off the grid? Well a lot of places can be defined as off the grid I guess but I got my taste in Niue. Go on say it “Where’s Niue?”, Niue is a small island located above New Zealand and to the right of Tonga. Fondly know as the rock of Polynesia, the island is made of limestone, which is a somewhat boring fact however all that limestone is essentially a giant water filter for the ocean around it. So expect visibility like nowhere else on earth; I’m talking your 60m on a bad day type vis, the ‘swimming pool’ type vis, and yes mecca unspoilt ocean vis.
So what made Niue an off the grid location for me? Well as already mentioned the surroundings – yep! Tick one for ocean and you know what tick two for land; this place is volcanic in it’s fertility. Locals can chop off a bit of yam greenery stick it in the ground and bingo another yam plant grows. Tony who took me on a tour around Niue showed me his yam plantation and described this very principle with a lack of excitement that explained the normality of this system. Tony would have a heart attack and run screaming from the hills at the sight of Coles.
His (cheesy as it sounds) old world ways included demonstrating his chicken catching system; firstly visualize me drinking coconut water from a coconut that Tony has just cut down from a tree for me a sliced open with his machete… “You put corns in the hut and wild chicken come, I sneak up behind tin- they no hear me cos’ they so busy making happy chicken eating corn sounds – and I slam door shut and catch me 50 chickens!”
On Niue you can experience hidden inland beaches, waves crashing through caves, chasms of fresh water crazily mixing with salt water. Wonderful spikes of limestone, lush jungle and fossils all around you imprinted in the stone. At the risk of sounding like your high school science teacher it was strange and fascinating to see coral fossils imprinted in the rocks some 20 meters or more above sea level. I felt like I had a real oohh ahh what happened here so long ago that this was the sea up here.
So we’re two ticks in on the ‘off the grid’ chart, let’s go for three.
Hands down number three is the people! Niueans’ are just normal people who don’t treat you like you’re special because you came to visit, you’re just part of the furniture from the minute you get there. Trusted like a local and treated like one. I forgot money one night and we ate up a storm of burgers and chips and couldn’t pay. No worries, staff just said ‘”it’s okay just come back and pay sometime before you leave on Thursday.”
Just let me SIDETRACK a bit because I mentioned leaving: great system, drive your hire car to the airport leave the keys in the ignition and fly out; the rental car company (we used Niue Car Rentals) will come get the car after you’ve left!
Okay back to the people. There won’t be any fake smiles or super service on Niue either; they are just them and you are just you. Having said that whenever I walked out of my accommodation to go into town to eat, desk staff at Matavai would ask where you going for dinner and we would reply oh to the Japanese (more about the sashimi in a sec) only to find when we got there she had called to tell Avi we were coming and he had put aside a table for us.
So the sashimi – oh dear lord the sashimi – seriously it was great. It is in fact rated as one of the top 10 Japanese restaurant outside of Japan. We chatted with two Japanese journalists a few times during our stay, they were there writing for an adventure mag and they agreed. This restaurant is a stand out as is Willys’ Washaway Cafe, the only restaurant open on a Sunday. It’s basic fare burgers etc but the charm is the honour system. Something perfect about writing down 1 bourbon and coke in an exercise book then skipping behind the bar to mix it yourself whilst you wait for your food. You need to write that down for Willy as well (separate book!) then you can add it all up at the end and pay before you wander off into the sunset.
Okay so I figure now you’ve read all that you may like to know some of the stuff I actually did do:
Snorkel – in a myriad of easily accessible pools and chasms some that are a mix of fresh and sea water – kind of cool. See lots of friendly fish, singular or in decent size schools, sea snakes, crabs and hard corals.
Whale watching – YESSS humpback migration head through here July – September.
Diving – yep fantastic stuff. Buccaneer Adventure Niue Divers was super professional and helpful and has a great PADI outfit. They will take you to a range of dive sites including some that are a bit different; expect to see pods of spinner dolphins on your way to dive sites.
Discover stuff – even if it’s a short walk to a cliff edge to find yourself an awesome view of the ocean while you eat your lunch roll – DO IT. You cannot but respect the ocean when you’re sitting on a rock in the middle of it!
Climb – down chasms that hide dark (slightly terrifying) swim-throughs or down any number of sea tracks to explore rock pools and look at the reef exposed by tide.
Play Golf – watch out for chickens.
Take a land tour – discover and hold the UGA crab (Coconut Crab) missing from many of its natural habitats and protected in others Niueans still catch and eat the Uga as a meal. They are huge and you seriously need to watch your fingers because of you get caught in one of their pincers you will not come out a Winner!
Tour the vanilla farm – learn about the humble beginnings of your beloved donuts and muffins.
Visit the local primary school – its brand new and built by the Australian government for Niue. The kids are a delight and the school grateful for any supplies you may donate- we took Soccer balls, crayons Pencils, basic stationary and books.
So how are we going? Are you ready for taste of Niue yet? Go for it – dip your toe into the off the grid pool who knows you may become addicted and go in search of even more places that offer a genuine holiday. An actual escape!
As for me well I will still enjoy the all the bells and whistles holidays but there is something that makes me yearn for an experience like Niue again. The simplicity of taking it as it comes, exploring whatever whenever seeing more wild chickens on a given day than people and just generally feeling it.
– Abbigail Grier, Allways Dive Expeditions.
For more information on Niue, contact the staff at Allways Dive Expeditions on 1800 338 239 or email firstname.lastname@example.org!