Back in Easter our family was pondering where to go for a South Island holiday, and ended up settling on a camper van expedition. Our terrible toddler ensured the trip was a challenge, yet a good time was still had by all. Last month we were off again. But this time, due to Marlborough’s biting cold, we were eyeing warmer climes – which meant our first family holiday overseas.
Again – where to go? As I explained to our 2-year old (2-Yo), we had previously placed his holiday enjoyment foremost. So this time it would be the adults getting the priority. Having a lukewarm attitude towards highly commercialised destinations, kid-friendly spots such as Fijian resorts and Queensland were happily struck from the list. Prior to 2-Yo’s introduction, exploration and adventure were what we had reveled in. Wanting more of that and with limited time, one choice became clear: Niue.
A hundred square miles, roughly 1400 residents and less than 4 hours from Auckland, Niue is an atypical pacific island. There are no golden sand beaches, only one resort, minimal shopping and average cuisine. Renwick has better nightlife. But, where travel brochures often don’t quite match the reality, Niue has those quintessential ingredients that money can’t buy. It’s genuine, unspoilt (like, properly unspoilt), and simply a real deal pacific paradise.
And yet 2-Yo was a concern. Would the more simplistic diet provoke a tantrum at every meal? How would he cope with being backpacked everywhere? (Even the vaunted Mountain Buggy stroller would be no match for Niue’s rugged terrain). Would the island have the requisite earth moving machinery to entertain him? I shrugged it all off and figured that if his parents were having a great time, so would he.
Getting to Niue is a piece of cake for young families – presuming you live in New Zealand because you can’t fly there from anywhere else. The trip is short enough that in-flight entertainment can occupy a youngling for most of the voyage. A 23-hour time difference renders jetlag a non-issue and when you arrive, use of the NZ currency ensures you know how much that bunch of bananas costs. Travelling to the motel in our rental car (a necessity), I couldn’t believe how many dilapidated buildings there were. They stood as testament to the halcyon days of yore, before a large scale exodus from ‘The Rock’, mainly to Auckland. Not a bad thing for those keen to explore though. Much to 2-Yo’s delight, there was also no shortage of earth moving machinery. There sure was plenty of work for them, with some of the roads seriously pot-holed.
Most tourists choose to stay close to the main town of Alofi, but we opted for the quieter north-west, and the Anaiki Motel proved a great choice. 2-Yo had a grassy yard full of chickens, lizards and sand piles to himself. We had a wine-compatible deck with great views of the migrating whales, and an amazing aquarium-like swimming hole just down the steps. Instead of a bath, 2-Yo thus experienced numerous salt water submersions. (Payback for vomiting over our camper van on the last holiday).
Two major draws attracted us to Niue – the subterranean world above sea-level, and the aquatic realm below. The visibility down under was incredible, partly due to the island being a raised coral atoll with no run-off. There was a wonderful variety of sea life, with my only regrets being the absence of an underwater camera, and 2-Yo not yet being able to experience it. But he was fine with life above the waves and was showing such a zest for each new experience. Sure enough, he was picking up on his parent’s fascination and enjoying every minute. Venturing into underground marvels such as Anapala Chasm and Talava Arches invoked new experiences in all of us, and ones that I’m sure will remain with him even if he can’t remember them later.
Of course Niue has its perils. For little ones, the alluring turquoise water poses a threat. The coral limestone rocks are razor sharp. There are many double-track trails for mountain biking but you wouldn’t want to come a cropper. And, whilst there are plenty of sea snakes, you don’t have the poisonous beasts that frequent some other tropical Get-Aways. There are lots of big fish though. We didn’t make it onto a boat, but I’m told the deep sea fishing in Niue is some of the best and most accessible around.
Our holiday was drawing to a close and we’d explored almost all the sea tracks and caverns on the map. 2-Yo hadn’t been burdensome in the slightest; in fact he had earned his keep by turning on the charm and raising many a smile amongst the locals. But a week hadn’t allowed enough time for simple R&R; the landscape was so remarkable that I didn’t want to miss a thing. Delving into Niue’s interesting history, spending time with the friendly Niueans, swimming with the dolphins and chilling out on the hammock with a Pina Colada… well, they’d all have to wait until next time.
How it might have been without the 2 year old!: