Niue, South Pacific
Niue (pronounced "New-ay") is the South Pacific's best kept secret, a remote and tranquil island of great beauty, and home to some of the most spectacular dolphins and whales in the world. It is one of the very few places anywhere that offers an opportunity for close-up encounters with both dolphins and whales just minutes from the shore in warm, crystal-clear waters and only a handful of other visitors around. For more than a decade now The POD has been exclusively offer this trip to paradise!
The trip next runs in August 2013, and the emphasis is both the whales and dolphins of Niue and the island's spectacular - and little known - natural beauty.
...SO WHAT AND WHERE IS NIUE?
Niue is a single island that takes about 4 hours to gently cycle around. It is situated in the heart of Polynesia, about 3 hours direct flying time north of New Zealand, and neighbours Tonga, Western Samoa and the Cook Islands.
Niue is unique in many ways. It is a raised coral platform, with high and dramatic cliffs plunging into the Pacific Ocean. Although it does have a few small beaches, it is really quite different from the typical South Sea atolls and islands with just sand and palm trees. Niue has extensive caves, colourful rock pools, dense and lush forests and - in the absence of any rivers - crystal clear warm waters surrounding the coastline.
Niue is a developed self-governing nation, maintaining a 'free association' with New Zealand, and has a tiny population of just under two thousand people, most of whom speak English as well as their native Niuean. All modern facilities are found on the island - a modern and comfortable hotel, school, shops, bank, hospital, power-generating station, port and government house - and yet the island offers a wonderful refuge from the stress and noise of everyday life elsewhere in the world. The pace of life is slow and relaxed, the weather very comfortable and the people extremely friendly. Crime is almost non-existent, sanitary conditions are excellent and communications with the outside world are reliable. In sum, Niue is a very special island nestled in the South Pacific where it really is possible to get away from it all - and to meet the cetaceans...
NIUE'S DOLPHINS AND WHALES
The Spinner Dolphins around Niue are some of the most acrobatic in the oceans! They get their names for the high leaps they make out of the water, sometimes spinning as much as 6 or 7 times before crashing exuberantly back into the waves. They spin along a vertical axis of their body, leaving the water nose-first and already spinning - all quite different from the artificial 'somersault' behaviours often seen in captive bottlenose dolphins. This is the real thing: wild, natural and full of life!
Each year a few humpback whales can also be seen hugging Niue's dramatic coastline, making the long journey from the nutrient-rich waters of Antarctica, where they feed for several months during the Antarctic Summer. Swimming north to the warm and relatively sheltered waters of South Pacific islands, they rest, mate, give birth and rear their young. At any one time in the months of late June to November there is likely to be many whales around the island, often with juveniles in tow. This is a time of great energy, playfulness and some spectacular displays of acrobatics that often includes breaching (jumping out of the water and splashing back down).
If the conditions are right (eg. if the whales seem receptive after an initial entry into the water, and there is no energetic mating behaviour in progress) then we shall enter the water to view the whales in their own environment. Entering the water in the presence of whales, often inquisitive juveniles who may swim over for a closer look, tends to provoke a feeling of deep respect and awe in people. Safe distances are always maintained, and the mood is relaxed and respectful. So few visitors ever visit this magical island that human impact on the whales is absolutely minimal, and in-water encounters only occur when the conditions are right and the whales are responsive to a small group of people in the water - sometimes they are very inquisitive! Past trips have even given us the chance to see a pod of friendly dolphins interacting with the large whales, the sea filled with the whistles and clicks of the smaller dolphins and, sometimes, the hauntingly beautiful songs of the humpback whales. It makes the body tingle with sound and energy!
The next Niue tour runs from August 24 to 31, 2013, with the possibility of adding a second week if there is sufficient demand. The tour coincides with the weekly flight to/from Auckland on Air New Zealand. August is well clear of the cyclone season in the South Pacific (November-January), and it is also when the humpback whales are most plentiful. Humidity is low, and there are both pleasant air temperatures and sea temperatures (both averaging 26c). It is also not peak season for flights to New Zealand - our international staging post to Niue - which means some good deals can be found on airfares.
The are so many highlights in this trip-of-a-lifetime destination that it's difficult to pick just a few! Throughout the week there will be a total of four trips out on the water to see the dolphins and whales - so lots of opportunities to get up close and personal!
In addition to the dolphins and whales, Niue is abundant in the most colourful fish-life, coral and underwater caves - all clearly visible by snorkellers at the surface (diving options, at an additional cost, are available for those who wish to scuba dive).
As well as the frequent trips out to see the dolphins and whales, trip participants can keep an eye out for cetaceans from the hotel deck, which has a panoramic view over Avateli Bay - a favourite spot for the humpbacks and spinners.
We shall explore the dramatic open sea caves (lots of light and wide open to the ocean) on Niue's eastern side. Here we see some of the wonderful stalagmites and stalactites in these former dwelling-places of the early Niuean settlers. We shall also visit the bathing place of former Kings on the island, and view the dramatic arches of rock with beautiful ocean backdrops.
We'll venture into a peaceful canyon with a still, clear natural bathing pool, and also visit the unique 'Star Wars' landscape of Togo Chasm, in which is hidden a small beach with palm trees entirely surrounded by sheer cliffs - a magical and sacred place for Niue's first settlers.
A visit to the pools at the northern end of the island will also offer the opportunity to explore the colourful reefs and brightly-coloured fish in these extraordinary and protected tidal pools, and swim through a vast archway through which the light turns the water a deep sunlight-strewn indigo.
No trip to a small island like Niue would be complete without a chance to visit the small collection of shops that lie at the heart of the infrastructure of the community. There are a few souvenir shops which sell local handicrafts, including tapa print cloths and weaving. A philately centre is available for those who prize the rare and beautiful collection of Niuean stamps, and the Niue visitor information centre offers a range of books and souvenirs, as well as advice and suggestions for spare-time activities, in the centre of Alofi - the one 'true town' of the island.
We shall also have the chance to sample a traditional feast with all the local delicacies: taro plants, local fish marinated in lime juice and coconut cream, sweet potato, breadfruit, coconut crab, baked papaya with coconut and the delicious local tropical fruits. There will also be the chance to see some local children performing traditional island dances.
If you are not keen on living on board a boat for a week, then this is the trip for you. There will be lots of time for rest and relaxation - you may wish to go for a dip in the hotel's swimming pool, else take a stroll into town, or even go for a bicycle trip around the island...after all, how many other countries can you cycle around in an afternoon?
The trip will be led by Dr Jason Cressey, founder of The POD - an experienced leader of tours to see and interact with dolphins and whales around the world. Jason first discovered the dolphin and whale eco-tour potential of Niue in 1998, and has been back many times since. Jason will provide daily presentations about dolphins and whales, with particular reference to the spinner and dolphins and humpback whales of Niue, and provide background information on social and mating behaviour, feeding, group dynamics, dolphins and whales in history, mythology and modern culture, and an overview of the apparently beneficial effects that interacting with wild cetacea can have on physical and psychological well-being.
As well as daily talks, there will be activity sessions throughout the trip (which are, of course, entirely optional) that will include topics such as daily yoga, relaxing visualisations, breathing exercises and story-telling...all inspired by the dolphins and whales!
WHO IS THE TRIP FOR?
Whether you're travelling alone, in a couple or in a group – tours of this kind typically attract a wide variety of people of different backgrounds and ages - the only pre-requisite is a love of dolphins and whales, together with a desire to visit somewhere really unusual and off the beaten track. Full details on preparing for the trip, and good ideas for things to bring, will be supplied to all participants well in advance.
As Niue has a relatively rough terrain (with sharp rocks away from paved surfaces) the trip is not suitable for children under 12 years old, nor for those who are unable to easily walk for 1-2 km over rocky terrain. Being a strong swimmer is NOT important, but it is a requirement that you feel comfortable with the idea of floating in deep water (with a floatation device, if you wish). Full guidance is given on how to use a snorkel and fins, and there will always be someone in the water with you to lend assistance.
Because of the need to get out of and back onto a small inflatable zodiac boat when out on the water, a useful thing to consider when asking "Is this trip for me?" is whether you can sit in a plane seat without restriction. The vast majority of people would answer 'yes' to this, but If your body size/shape prohibits you from doing so, then the chances are you would have difficulty entering/exiting the water from the boat, and so you may wish to choose another trip (or, if you do join the trip, you would likely find it most comfortable to remain on the boat without entering the water.
The group size will be small, to allow for a peaceful and individualised trip, and will not exceed 10 guests maximum. What's more, it's quite likely that there will be no more than about a dozen other tourists on the island for the entire duration of the trip - we'll have the place pretty much to ourselves!
The trip is open to residents of any country. The tour officially begins and ends in Niue, and full information will be given on arranging your flight to Niue from Auckland, New Zealand. Because you make your own way there it really doesn't matter where you begin the journey! Many direct international flights serve Auckland from London, Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Australia, Japan and other points in Asia - getting there should present no problems!
While the tour does not include transportation to or from Niue, we shall send detailed information to everyone joining the tour (on receipt of the deposit) which outlines the travel options available to New Zealand as well as the flight details for getting to and from Niue, approximate prices, etc., from your part of the world. You can book your flights yourself or through a travel agent.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please note that Niue is served by one airline (Air New Zealand) which flies just one roundtrip per week between Auckland and Niue. The airline is reliable and normally punctual, and the price of the airfare to Niue has dropped dramatically compared to other airlines in previous years. You will be given details of which flights to book at the time of sending your deposit for the trip.
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT TO GAIN FROM THE TRIP?
An appreciation of cetacean evolution, physiology and social behaviour by encountering both humpback whales and acrobatic spinner dolphins in their own natural environment
The chance to spend time with the dolphins and whales in the warm, clear water
The joy of relaxing in a comfortable hotel, overlooking a bay in which the dolphins and whales are often seen, with short boat-trips out to encounter the cetaceans up-close
An opportunity to see the underwater corals and vibrantly coloured tropical fish around the island, as well as swim in the local pools with both fresh and seawater
The chance to explore the exotic landscape, forests, caves and chasms of this charming island
An insight into local folklore and customs, as well as traditional Polynesian ways of life and tastes of the local fresh foods
WHAT IS THE COST, AND WHAT IS INCLUDED?
The total cost for the tour is $2750 Canadian Dollars (approximately (US$2700). There is a 5% early-bird reduction for bookings made before December 31st, 2012. This price includes:
Seven days and seven nights on the island, with four dedicated half-day trips out to encounter the dolphins and whales
All meals, served both in the hotel and at a variety of other local eateries
Guided tours to places of interest around the island, in addition to snorkelling trips to the best sea-pools, filled with colourful tropical fish and beautiful coral
Whale and dolphin audio-visual presentations and activities provided daily by Dr Jason Cressey
Alofi town trips
Daily yoga and meditation sessions on the hotel deck. The 'yoga deck' overlooks the dolphin and whales' favourite bay in Niue...they sometimes swim by for a look! The gentle yoga classes are for all levels and ages - no experienced required.
For this trip, The POD is using the excellent facilities of the Matavai Hotel, where all previous groups led by Jason have enjoyed outstanding comfort, friendly service and great views. The hotel is small, clean, well-maintained and wonderfully peaceful. There are televisions in the rooms, and the hotel also has Wi-Fi access - if you wish to use the internet bring your laptop!
The local dive operator will provide all our water excursions to see the dolphins and whales, providing us with quick and comfortable boat transportation around the two major bays on the calm side of the island where the dolphins and whales spend most of their time. We shall also have use of a minibus for transportation around the island, and cycles are available free of charge to borrow from the hotel.
The price does not include:
· Transportation to Niue via Auckland (you will be supplied with full details about arranging travel from your home country/area, how to find the best deals, etc., when you pay your deposit)
· Accommodation/food before or after the tour (if you choose to stay in Niue before or after the trip)
· Travel Insurance, local airport/entry/departure taxes or gratuities.
HOW TO BOOK ...
Places are limited, and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
We shall also send a list of recommended personal items to pack, a detailed itinerary, a medical/release form and detailed information and suggestions about booking your flights. Please e-mail us to request a booking form, specifying if you prefer to receive the form by email, fax or regular mail (in which case, please include your fax number/mailing address). Payments can be made by personal cheque (in most currencies), money order or bank transfer.
Please note that, in the event that you need to cancel your place(s), this must be done in writing. Refunds of any payments made after the deposit will only be given if your place(s) on the tour can be filled.
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© The POD - People, Oceans, Dolphins 2012