Welcome to my personal travel journal! If you don't know me, that's OK! I hope you'll enjoy reading about some of my adventures and misadventures, and hopefully learn something new about a corner of the world.

Recent updates:
2015-10-06: Day 8 of Niue in 2011.
2015-10-05: Day 7 of Niue in 2011.
2015-09-29: Day 6 of Niue in 2011.

For list of trips, see TABLE OF CONTENTS.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I sautéed it in some butter, and some of the "wild ginger" Alexa picked up during Jack's tour of the forest, although it tasted more like a weird version of turmeric. The end result was terrible. It was tough, bitter, and reminded me of the taste of sea squirt. Was it so different from supermarket sea cucumber because of the processing or species? I ended up throwing it out, and ate my evening pasta with some tinned tuna picked up from the bread shop earlier. For this evening, I started using insect spray and closed my windows. Finally, I was able to get some sleep minimally interrupted by mosquitoes.
I decided the best way was to kill it with boiling water. It had a surprisingly strong reaction - it scrunched up really tight, then released and went limp - I felt really bad about it afterwards :(   I cleaned it's guts, which were somewhat translucent and portions were filled with sand. On the advice of the ladies, I threw the guts off the porch to the chickens, although I'm not sure how great my aim was... On a side note, the ladies said they saw the chickens eating a dog turd the other day, I guess they will eat anything. The final skin looked a bit like the stuff you would see in a Chinese supermarket, so I had quite high hopes this would work out.
OK - for my last adventure of the day, I decided to try on of the numerous sea cucumbers lying around the reef. Asking around, Ira says he has heard of an export industry here, and although some Niueans eat the sea cucumbers, they prefer the smaller thinner kind is it was more tender. That at least gives me enough confidence that it's edible for me to try it. I found one of the sea cucumbers that looks close to what I've ate before and picked it up. It was surprisingly difficult due to its many working suction cups on it's bottom. Even placing it down for a minute on a rock on the shore caused it to get stuck quite tight to it. On the way back, I ran into Willy - he recons it's edible, but seems a bit unsure of it.
One last photo before leaving. The last light of the day.
Another view of the reef. Dusk in the South Pacific never fails to calm me. The feeling has stuck with me - even years later, while writing this, I can feel the deep sense of serenity and contentedness thinking back.
Beyond the reach of the reef, a boat was anchored for the night. I wonder if it belonged to someone on the island, or a visitor. The calm lull between sunset and darkness has settled in.
At the outer edge of the reef was someone plodding along. Alexa suspects that it was a fisher or someone hunting for octopus.
As the setting sun slid under the horizon, it lit the sky on fire, extending its deep orange-red flames one last time for the day.
I thought this view was good enough to post a vertical version as well. I love how clear and calm the water looks.
Sunset was stunning as always. It's always my favourite time of the day in the South Pacific. Such a peaceful time to reflect on the day.
After a short rest at the hostel, Alexa headed out to photograph the sunset, so I thought I'd come along. There were a bunch of cool domed spider webs along the trail to Utuko Reef.
Resting back at the hostel. I guess at low tide the reefs are visible along the shore by the hostel.
View of the shoreline to the north. I ended up lazing around the are for a bit before returning to the hostel for the late afternoon / early evening.
Here's a closer view of the shoreline to the south and the reefs under the cliffs.
The waves were swirling around the reef just by the wharf. Standing there, you can see fish swaying back and forth with each passing wave. I decided not to go for a swim due to how turbulent the waters were.
The water around the wharf looked really clear and inviting, but was quite turbulent, as the waves make their way through the channel to the other side of the reef.
Here is a view to the south. You can see the Tomb Point and the roof of the Fale Fono towards the left. The deep water just in front appears to be a channel cut through the reef to allow (relatively) easy passage of ships.
There is a much more open view of the coastline from the wharf. This is looking north. As with the rest of the coastline in Niue, the lush green vegetation spills over the steep coral cliffs overlooking plateaus of reefs encircling the island.
After the quick stop at Tomb Point, I continued on to the wharf. One of the now-familiar tourist families is here enjoying a swim. A pair of dogs also seems to be happily roaming the wharf.
There was also a view south from Tomb Point. Beautiful, but nothing special compared to the coastal views elsewhere on the island.
The first stop on my bike ride was Tomb Point just north of downtown Alofi. There wasn't much there, but there was a nice view of the wharf and the coastline stretching northwards. This is there the monthly cargo ship docks, providing supplies (including the beer - normally) for the island nation.
Right across the road are a few more stores, including a bakery that makes the delicious coconut bread. This is pretty much the densest commercial area in the nation - happening downtown Alofi.
After my nap, I went for a bike ride. This is the shopping centre in downtown Alofi. It contains the post office, tourist centre, a small supermarket, and a few other stores. Notice the chicken wandering around the grass on the right.
A view of the patio at the back of the hostel. It was a really nice and welcoming place.
Another view of the room. The window looks out on the main road through Alofi. I had the room to myself as Ira and Brian had a policy of giving each party their own room even though thought they are a hostel - I really appreciated that.
Coming back from the forest walk, were were too late to join the snorkelling trip Alexa and I were considering. I was somewhat happy at the time, since I was pretty tired (I ended up taking a nap for a couple of hours), but then was disappointed when at the airport, I heard they encountered three whales on that trip. I saw photos from the swim, and the whales in the pristine clear Niuean waters looked amazing.
Just a cool shiny spider I saw at Jack's workshop. Afterwards, on the way back, we drove past an old stone house, which was apparently one of the oldest houses on Niue built for a missionary back in the day. Sadly, I didn't take a photo of it since it didn't look too exciting.
Here's the plan of the special pendant Jack was wearing. It has a lot of symbolism in it about Niue and it's inhabitants, but at the time of writing, I've forgotten the details :(  Speaking of the World Expo in Shanghai, Brian told me an amusing story about how the Niuean government sent one the two(?) Chinese living in Niue (part time) at the time along with his girlfriend to the expo. They ended up breaking up there, and the government had to scramble for a replacement as the guy no longer wanted to continue representing Niue at the fair after the break up.
After the tour, Jack took us to his nearby studio to show (and sell) us his carvings, and treating us to some bananas he grew. Apparently he now works exclusively in ebony since that's what most tourists want. In addition to pendants, he has some interesting sculptures and other pieces, such as a wavy hairpin following the shape of the root its carved from, with one end terminating in the shape of the head of a penis. Apparently, this was shown at the World Expo in Shanghai.
Following the trail closer to the ocean, we caught our first glimpse of Togo Chasm. A hidden oasis sunken into this inhospitable landscape.
Looking up at a banyan tree. Finally, Jack showed us an ebony tree with a black core visible through some folds in the trunk. He claims that Niuean ebony is the hardest and darkest in the world, and that only the trees growing on rocks developed the black ebony core. He also claimed that Niuean people are different - that there's a seed that Niueans can eat but others will get sick, and that Niueans are immune to asbestos since no Niueans working with asbestos have ever gotten cancer. I am somewhat skeptical of those claims.
We also saw some impressively large and tall banyan trees. The roots here were like a maze. There's a person for scale in this photo.
I asked Jack about this strange fungus I've been seeing in the forest. Jack says he's never seen anything like this until a few years ago, and that it's been killing the trees... uh oh. Ira has also pointed out to me that the Niue landfill has been completely overgrown by a thick layer of vines. Apparently that's from a plant someone threw out a few years ago - he had brought it from overseas, and when it grew out of control in his garden, he ripped it up and threw it in the dump. I feel like someone should be paying attention to these things... I'm surprised at how many developing environmental threats I've seen in the South Pacific.
Another kind of giant tree in the forest. This kind has non-twisty wall-like roots. I wish I had a person in the photo to give a sense of scale. There were also lots of large black army ants in the forest, which bit a few people during the hike and were apparently quite painful. I was very careful not to stand near any anthills or ant highways.
Looking up at the canopy of one of the giant trees seen on the walk. The sound of rain hitting the canopy was very soothing. Jack also pointed out some plants that warriors used as a headdress, and can be baked into an extremely sweet toffee-like substance. Speaking of warriors, apparently Niue had quite an interesting history of southern and northern tribes warring with each other.
Jack also showed us "tiwali(?)" trees with twisted roots. They felt mysterious, as if their unnatural vitality is due to them drawing some occult power from some supernatural vortex they grow over. There were also a lot of vines in the forest. Jack surprised us by cutting down a segment, and when tilted, it poured out a surprisingly healthy stream of water from which to drink from.
Just a cool spider web up in the jungle. Another consequence of the numerous coral caves in the forest is that many uga live there. Jack told us an interesting story about a Niuean who always caught strangely large ugas, but then got mysteriously sick and died - even hospitals in NZ couldn't figure out what was wrong. Many locals suspect that he was catching the uga in tapu areas. He also claims that two tourist hikers found an ancient wall around the tapu area deep in the forest It's great that the tradition of tapus are still alive and well in Niue.
You can see from this photo how much of the forest floor was made up of sharp coral rocks. Even though it was raining pretty heavy at times, there were never any puddles, as coral is extremely porous. As a result, there are no rivers or streams on Niue, but plenty of springs in the coastal lowlands. As with many isolated islands, Niue sits in the middle of a large water lens of relatively fresh water. A more dubious belief in Niue is that the island is mushroom-shaped, and actually thinner underwater than on top.
Jack pointed out to us a bunch of interesting plants in the forest, including the ubiquitous luku, a type of fern. It's edible, so we tried a bit of it - it tasted pretty much as you would expect it to. Apparently the temporary guide before Jack made up names and facts on his tours - hopefully Jack isn't doing the same to us - I don't want to get poisoned!
This is Jack, our cheery guide with machete in hand, quite useful in places. He was asked by the Tourism Board to do the tours after the previous guide stopped. Apparently the previous guide was hardcore Niuean, and never wore shoes, and apparently had pretty gnarly cut-up feet. I can't imagine walking around the Niuean forest without shoes, seeing that even shoes get pretty cut up here.
The weather on this side of the island was rainy, but wasn't bad. It did spurt rain periodically, but the thick canopy and warm weather made it actually quite pleasant. I wonder if these wood ears are edible. After a quick stop at Matavai to pick up four others, we were on our way into the forest on a gravel road.
For the morning today, Alexa and I got up early to join Jack's forest walk - a tour of Huvalu Forest Conservation Area. I asked Alexa to make sure I'm awake in the morning since it's so early, but managed to wake up and be ready even before she was!