I am fortunate enough to travel occasionally and be able to experience other sights, cultures and cuisines. Mrs. Foodie also has the travel bug and ensures that my work annual leave allowance never gets too big. I’ve never written about any of the trips so I am enjoying reliving the journey as I write this.
It’s always nice to leave the gloom of an Auckland winter and head to the islands where the tropical weather awaits. We have been to a few islands so thought we would go somewhere we had not been before; Niue was advertised as being something different and had the big draw card of being able to see and hopefully swim with whales. Niue is a raised coral atoll, surrounded by reef and absent of the sandy beaches typical of other tropical islands. There is no choice to go for less than a week because there is only one plane that flies in and out every Saturday!
I didn’t think there would be too many surprises with Niue, being an island in the Pacific, the cuisine is dictated by the limited food that is produced on the island and the majority of ingredients being imported when possible. The availability was worse than I realised, produce from the island was not in as great supply as I had thought (due to the limited number of farms still being run) and imported food was running low as the boat that brought it was running late. All this being said there were still some great eats and hidden foodie treasures to be found.
We stayed south of the capital Alofi in the region of Tamakautoga at the Matavai Resort. It was a very well presented place, lush gardens and a deck with a beautiful sunset view, perfect for whale watching whilst sipping on a cold beverage. We ate at the resort for one night, which had a couple of vege options for Mrs. Foodie and the usual resort foods like steak etc for me, pleasant enough but nothing to write home about (considering resort pricing).
Deciding to venture away from the resort on the other nights, we found plenty of options advertised in local food guides, the majority of them in Alofi and a few scattered throughout other villages. Many of these are family run establishments offering traditional fare in the form of a buffet and often with a cultural show. The problem with being on island time and very small population (only ~1300) meant that the restaurants did not always open when was advertised. I called a place that only opened a few days a week and although trying throughout the day that it was meant to be open, I could not get through to anyone… sigh!
We toured around the island, visiting many of the natural wonders, inland caves and coral formations. The island is very rugged due to the coral base and I had a hard time not to twist my ankle on the terrain whilst going off the beaten track.
It wasn’t just around meal time we found the foodie related things, whilst wandering out to a whale watching site we found a noni bush, a local fruit delicacy which after picking up I realised smelt like rotten cheese! I read they are high in vitamin C like oranges and rather bitter but I wasn’t game enough to find out what the taste was like. We also passed many small plantations of taro and were endlessly dodging chickens crossing the road which I assume were not all there just to be pets (nom nom nom).
One of the big foodie highlights was going on a tour of a vanilla plantation “Vanilla on the Rock” with our guide Nonga. She carefully looks after the vanilla orchids, growing them in coconut fibre which helps retain the right moisture and nutrients for the vines to thrive in such a harsh soil environment. Each orchid flower has to be hand pollinated and folded over, then left to grow into a seed pod for many months. Nonga chooses to leave the pods on the vine to ripen to their fullest, then naturally ferments the pods to get the finished product, rather than pick early and treat chemically before drying to within an inch of its life like cheaper overseas manufacturers might do (great sales pitch I know!). The proof is in the pudding they say and let me tell you she had the plumpest best looking vanilla pods I have ever seen!
Stepping away from food, early on in the trip we decided to go on a Whale Watching tour which for some reason I envisaged a rather high tech operation on a largish boat which would easily locate our blubbery friends so we could admire from a distance… and maybe swim up and give them a pat. All of the advertising and photos people had taken seemed to make me form that opinion. What it turned out to be was a couple of inflatable boats which carried half a dozen of us “spotters” looking for whales blowing spouts of water into the air. I wished I had known this as I’m pretty sure half of us had crap vision and the other half had no idea what to look for as there was no training whatsoever or textbook to study up on the various whaley patterns. By some miracle someone spotted a spout in the distance to which our guide got really excited because I don’t think she had actually seen one that season (yeah now we find out the truth!).
We chased over to where we saw it, but the funny thing about whales is they are really freaken fast and can go underwater for like 20 mins and pop up miles away so it was only by more miracles that we kept seeing the same one, going down and coming back up. It was really cool to see but a little disappointed we did not get the chance to swim with it. Eventually we lost its trail and were forced to drive around aimlessly before heading back to the aptly named “Snake Gully” for some snorkelling. The snorkelling was excellent, seeing all sorts of fish life, small reef sharks, a turtle and a heap of sea snakes which are venomous but not that interested in us so fun to chase (Mrs. Foodie was not having a bar of that or the sharks).
We had also already signed up for a dolphin watching trip with the same crowd (if we had known their technique beforehand we may not have) so ended up driving up and down the coast hoping some marine mammals would take an interest and come and visit. Alas it was not to be, so went back to the same snorkel spot to chase some more snakes and sharks.
A few days later whist snorkelling at the crack of dawn down from Alofi, I finally got my personal whale experience. Exploring around the reef I stopped when I heard a whining noise, thinking it was Mrs Foodie (no I don’t mean it like that!) I asked her if she made a noise… No… ok a bit later there were more, different pitches some high some deep – it was whale song, a serenade perhaps, an island love song. I could not see the whales as they were too far out, but I swam as far as I would dare till I swam over the drop off into the abyss… hmm don’t want a whale to come up from under me… maybe best to just stay back and enjoy the music!
It turns out that from just a week on an island I have an increasing number of things to share with you… so take it easy, have a coffee break, embrace island time and join me back here for my next post soon when I talk of restaurants and the woes of vegetarianism. Niue to be continued…