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  • South Pacific Interlude
        We're always passing over lonely specs
        in the sea. Sometimes, though, we stop.
        This overlooked outpost convinced us to
        stop more often.


    Exploring new frontiers off Niue
    TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY
    CASEY MAHANEY AND ASTRID WHITE MAHANEY


    Divers tend to be natural explorers, always in search of yet another frontier. Having already traveled the world's oceans, we were excited about an exploratory trip to remote Beverage Reef, southeast of the island of Niue in the South Pacific. Sailing through the deep waters of the Tonga Trench, we found ourselves among an adventuresome group of pioneers, including a fish scientist from New Zealand; journalists and photographers from England, Australia and the U.S.; a Niue Island minister; and Niue's dive shop operators, Kevin and Carrie Fawcett, who were instrumental in the coordination of this expedition on the luxurious motor/sailor South Pacific Sunrise.

    Once anchored in the turquoise lagoon of Beverage, a reef structure two miles wide and four miles long, we were free to explore its hard coral gardens with the two inflatables provided. When diving a totally untouched reef, we find the fishes' reaction to divers exciting and sometimes amusing. One time we were dropped right on top of a school of perhaps 50 Barracuda. They immediately began to swim around us, not with the calm, even circles we had observed in more frequented places, but with abrupt, aggravated zigzag movements, indicating their apparent irritation. On another occasion, shortly after we had joked with the other photographers about how difficult it is to photograph sharks, we had a Gray Reef Shark approach us boldly, displaying pure curiosity rather than aggressive or territorial posturing. We almost had to bump him off with the camera. On almost every dive we had several Black Trevally follow us like puppy dogs, accompanying us through arches and canyons.

    And then there are the new discoveries-species that could not be found in any of the fish identification books. It might be a new species or just a color variation. We would have to compare notes with the scientist on board.

    Seafans On our first few days, buddy teams would return from their dives naming known fish species sighted, describing coral growth and chattering away about encounters with the big stuff. Overall, we found the diversity of coral and fish species not as great as we had expected and there appeared to be a lack of invertebrates. However, with the abundance of large fish that displayed no fear of divers and a visibility that averaged more than 100 feet, Beverage still offered some excellent diving.

    South Pacific Sunrise also offers sea kayaking and waterskiing and will combine its future adventure cruises to Beverage with a landbased package on Niue. Known as the Rock of Polynesia, Niue is the world's largest uplifted coral landmass, rising some 200 feet above the Pacific Ocean. Owing to the lack of sandy beaches, run-off or any type of pollution, the water is so clear, it's mind-boggling. While cruising the reef at 130 feet, we could see every ripple at the surface and even recognize the divers still on the boat.

    Kevin and Carrie presented us with a sampling of their dive sites, each one uniquely diverse. To me, the most impressive was Snake Gully, where the sandy bottom of canyons running perpendicular to the shoreline are clustered with bundles of Katuali, the Niuean Sea Snake. We watched with awe as one after another uncurled itself and left the bottom to slither toward the surface for a breath of air, then immediately return to one of the canyons. The activity of these venomous but timid marine reptiles resulted in a natural underwater show that we had never before experienced.

    Katuali - Niuean Sea Snake Giant seafans line the drop-off at Avatele, which is frequented by sharks and pelagics. In the the gin-clear waters at Anono, mostly known for its hard coral gardens and sea turtles, we also encountered a beautiful stingray.

    From June through September, migrating Southern Humpback Whales visit Niue. Although they do not appear in great numbers, those that choose Niue as their mating and birthing grounds are frequently encountered. Since Niue is so small, you are almost guaranteed to see them sooner or later.

    As much as we enjoyed our stay on Niue, we soon realized the lack of one important ingredient-time to explore! Needless to say, we left the island wanting much more and we're sure we'll be back!



    DIVE NIUE AND MATANGI RESORT

    New Zealand born dive operator Kevin Fawcett recognized Niue's potential years ago, when he first visited the island in 1988, lured by stories of clear waters and extraordinary fishing. After several more visits he established Dive Niue, the only dive operation on the island. Kevin and his wife Carrie, who learned the local language during her two years as a Peace Corp volunteer, run a low-key but impressively organized and safe operation. Their custom built inflatables are extremely sea worthy, comfortable and fast. At the dive shop we found a convenient washing, drying and equipment storage area. A short and punctual ride from the Matavai Resort is provided.

    Matavai is built into the cliff, with the restaurant, bar and pool area overlooking the ocean, allowing for excellent whale and dolphin watching opportunities. Although the rooms don't have an ocean view, they are close enough to the water that the soothing sound of the waves will lull you to sleep.

    The resort can also organize some thrilling tours and activities for you. Niue's coastline is riddled with magnificent caves and easily accessible rock arches. Comfortable hikes lead to spectacular chasms, while the island's interior invites for a leisurely walk through the rain forest. There is also a nice golf course and tennis court. Whatever your choice of activity, you can be assured of peace, solitude and comfort. Niue has never seen a large crowd and has a pleasant year-round climate with cooling trade winds.

    For more information on Matavai Resort, write to P.O. Box 133, Alofi, Niue Island, Pacific; phone (683) 4360, fax (683) 4361 or send e-mail to matavai@ mail.gov.nu. Dive Niue can be reached at P.O. Box 140, Alofi, Niue Island, Pacific; phone (683) 3411, fax (683) 4028 or by e-mail at niuedive@dive.nu. The Web site address is www.dive.nu.


    SOUTH PACIFIC SUNRISE

    This 125 foot vessel accommodates 14 passengers in plush double cabins with private bathrooms, ample closet space and rich teak decor. The elegant salon is marvellous, with beautifully inlaid tables, leather seats and a cozy bar area. The vessel has several outdoor sitting areas, some shaded and some not, but all outfitted with comfortable cushions. Traveling in such luxury, the 22 hours of crossing was a blast-the only compromise in comfort being the lack of air-conditioning.

    For more information on the South Pacific Sunrise, write to P.O. Box 91822, Auckland Mail Centre, Auckland, New Zealand, phone/fax (649) 278-2749, or send e-mail to markson@xtra.co.nz.



    April 1999