Category Archives: FOODIE TRAVEL

Niue, August 2013 (Part 2) – Fish Anyone?

The majority of our meals were had on the main street of Alofi. I had heard great things about The Crazy Uga having the best fish & chips on the rock so went for dinner. Naturally I went for the aforementioned famous meal which was fantastic, always made more special being able to eat watching the sunset. Poor Mrs. Foodie on the other hand asked if they could do something vegetarian, the lunch menu looked ok but that was not available, “How about a fish burger minus the fish with salad and vege stuff in it”…. after checking with the chef, “That’s not possible”…. “What about a milkshake, that’s on the menu”…. “Sorry we are out of milk, no more coming in till the next cargo boat”…. “Hmm I guess just a bowl of fries then, grrr”. Well I did say my fish was good which almost made up for it.

Why what are you doing here Mr Crabs?
Why what are you doing here Mr Crabs?
Uga or Coconut Crab, local delicacy, very big, very expensive
Uga or Coconut Crab, local delicacy, very big, very expensive

The Washaway bar opens up only Sunday nights on Avetele beach, 5 mins south from our resort. The atmosphere looked great just after sunset, the locals whipping up burgers off a barbecue in a beach shack. As we approached the glow however it came to our realisation that again the only options were fish burger, chicken burger or beef burger. Knowing the lack of flexibility of these operations (and despite Mrs. Foodie offering to be a hunger martyr again) we decided to hastily retreat. In the process of making a quick exit in the dim lighting arrangement I manage to smash my shin on a park bench fixed into the concrete; my excessive manliness prevented me from showing any outward pain although my shin was telling me to arrange swift death.

Avatele beach, easy to get to, lovely place to swim.
Avatele beach, easy to get to, lovely place to swim.
Fish Balls
Fish Balls
Mr Octopus you look so white as if you've seen a ghost... or a giant Liam perhaps?
Mr Octopus you look so white as if you’ve seen a ghost… or a giant Liam perhaps?

We chose instead to go to Kai Ika which is currently rated number 1 of ~8 restaurants on Niue by Trip advisor and for good reason. Although the name of the restaurant suggests traditional fare, what you get is rather an interesting fusion of Italian and Japanese, the host Avi being Italian and having two Japanese chefs. I had an entrée of Moonfish carpaccio done simply with balsamic, olive oil dressing and grated parmesan. Very interesting flavours as I had not had moonfish before, a very dark red flesh looking similar to beef, maybe not quite my cup of tea though. Our host was interested to know what I thought of it and very kindly brought me some tuna sashimi with mustard and ponzu on the house, to compare… what a champion! We decided to have pizza to follow, I had the Niuean (fish, papaya and chilli) which was very good and uniquely flavoured. Mrs. Foodie finally found some decent vegetarian options (hooray!) with a vegetarian pizza. We enjoyed the food and the generosity of Avi as well as the background music of well-known songs sung in Italian, so much so that we came back again another night for a Japanese feast of sushi, sashimi and tempura which was equally as enjoyable. Avi also owned Avi’s Ark which is an ice cream parlour (boat) which is parked out the back of the carpark, unfortunately to Mrs. Foodie’s horror (ice creams’ biggest fan) , they were out of ice cream till the next cargo boat!

Off the beaten Vaiea Sea Track
Off the beaten Vaiea Sea Track
Wild east coast of Anapala
Wild east coast of Anapala

The best bet for vegetarian food is usually Thai or Indian; populations in the world who have to cater for a great number of consumers who choose vegetarianism as a life choice for religious reasons or whatever. Thankful we were (especially Mrs. Foodie) when strolling down main street, we smelt the aromas of rich spices emanating from a corner shop. Gills Indian Restaurant – we also decided to eat here two nights having multiple options that didn’t have to involve fish or other dead animals, though me needing to refuel on animal protein when I can, opted for beef/chicken options. In summary they were cheap and pleasant meals, not the best curries I’ve had but you can’t be too picky when it’s the only Indian food on the island.

Anapala chasm, freshwater source once reserved for royalty
Anapala chasm, freshwater source once reserved for royalty
Togo Chasm, home to beautifully vicious coral pinnacles
Togo Chasm, home to beautifully vicious coral pinnacles

There were a few other eateries we went to – Falala Fa had a bar/bistro feel and I had a great fish dish… so much great fish but hey, “when in Rome”. Mrs Foodie was looking forward to a delicious tropical fruit salad but there was no fruit available (none at the market and no boat!). We had an ice-cream and takeaway shop just down the road from Matavai resort but after visiting a half dozen times throughout the week at different times we never saw it open (sigh) so ended up raiding some convenience stores in Alofi so Mrs. Foodie could get her ice cream fix. There is a larger supermarket open during restricted hours although we did not visit.

The bar's open! So many buildings like this around the island that have been abandoned
The bar’s open! So many buildings like this around the island that have been abandoned
Gecko getting some resort food
Gecko getting some resort food

So in summary, in a week we managed to see some whales and swim with them albeit at a distance (I’m claiming it), we circled the ring road and explored down every possible sea track we could find- We ate at almost all available popular restaurants and visited just as many that could not be bothered opening. Niue has very limited food options, especially if the boat is late and especially if you have dietary restrictions but there are enough gems to find to get you through the week. Great place to go if you like fish, it seemed to be the only ingredient that was on every menu. As Mrs. Foodie and I sat through our last sunset (looking for whales) we realised how we had forgotten the woes of our hectic Auckland life, how we had slowed down to the pace of “The Rock”… I thought we could live there, maybe spend my days snorkelling and fishing, perhaps own a little vegetarian restaurant that would perhaps feature a fish dish if you were lucky… hmm why not.

Waiting for whales at sunset
Waiting for whales at sunset

Last words: Remember you are on island time, just go with the flow and relax if things don’t turn out the way you hope and if you feel like choosing off the menu a vegetarian burger with a milkshake, fruit salad and ice cream – just go for the fish & chips, it’s easier!

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Niue, August 2013 – A Whale of a Time

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!

View from Palaha Cave
View from Palaha Cave
Limu Pools, beautifully clear swimming... not many fish on the day
Limu Pools, beautifully clear swimming… not many fish on the day

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).

The cracker view from Matavai resort.
The cracker view from Matavai resort.
Happy hour
Happy hour

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!

Wickedly deep chasm full of interesting corals and fish, ocean swell replenishing from the back
Wickedly deep chasm full of interesting corals and fish, ocean swell replenishing from the back
Mr Fish caught in the swell "Holy crap a human!"
Mr Fish caught in the swell “Holy crap a human!”

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.

Wlk to Talava arches, watch your footing... if you can find the path
Wlk to Talava arches, watch your footing… if you can find the path
Talava arches... it's a long walk to get there
Talava arches… it’s a long walk to get there

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).

Hold your nose - Noni fruit, on the bush and ripe from the ground
Hold your nose – Noni fruit, on the bush and ripe from the ground
Huvalu Forest, look out for chickens at all times
Huvalu Forest, look out for chickens at all times

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!

Follow the signs
Follow the signs
The vanilla flower
The vanilla flower
Vanilla pods growing
Vanilla pods growing
Vanilla Pods, the good stuff!
Vanilla Pods, the good stuff!

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!).

She had a bit of a whale tail
She had a bit of a whale tail

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).

What do I see down there?
What do I see down there?
"Here snakey snakey"
“Here snakey snakey”

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.

Ooh a shark!
Ooh a shark!
Let's get a closer look
Let’s get a closer look

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!

Looking back to Alofi from the waters edge
Looking back to Alofi from the waters edge
Snorkelling off from Alofi
Snorkelling off from Alofi

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…