Chasms and Caves of Niue

Having arrived on Niue and settled in, I figured it was time to explore. Rather than knock off the tourist sites one by one, I decided to set off around the island anticlockwise from Avatele and see what adventures awaited me. With an area less than Lake Taupo as my playground I figured it should not take long to systematically see all there was to see.

The road took me past Vaiea and on to Hakupu, where I saw my first intriguing sign, pointing shoreward to “Anapala Chasm”.  I took the turn, though navigating the increasingly steep switchback road in my rental soon began to raise my concerns.

But I made it to the parking space and disembarked. The threatened rain seemed to be holding off, though I saw a couple of visitors emerge from the rainforest with wet shoulders. Had they been caught out in a shower?

I forgot that quickly as I entered the rainforest for the first time. I walked into a jumble of colour, bright green leaves against brown trunks against white and grey limestone formations.

Rainforest of Niue
First rainforest experience

Once I began to adjust to the visual stimulation the audio kicked in and I discovered that the rainforest scuttles incessantly. My nervous investigation revealed the culprits to be either lizards or crabs, though there were some alarmingly large spider webs lying just off the trail.

After only a short while I met a family on their return from the chasm. “Watch out, it’s wet!” warned one of the children. I therefore eyed the steep staircase suspiciously.

Anapala Chasm
Looking down into the chasm

Still I pressed on, descending the staircase and venturing into the narrow fissure. According to the sign above, this is one of the few places on Niue where fresh water can be gathered, meaning that this descent was once an important journey for those who lived nearby. I had not, however, expected the aforementioned water to be pouring onto my head.

Anapala Chasm
The dripping depths of the chasm

Down in the farthest reaches of the chasm was a deep green stretch of fresh water, though I still marvelled at the thought of ancient Niueans braving these depths (sans staircase) with their coconut-shell calabashes to bring fresh water to their families.

I ascended from the depths, drenched and enlightened. Back in the safety of my vehicle I resumed my journey around the island, but when I saw the signpost for Togo Chasm I spurned it, deciding that this tourist hot-spot could wait. Instead I passed through Liku village, which in the early days of New Zealand colonial government was looked upon suspiciously as a den of rebellion.

I continued past Liku and the crossroads which connects it to the west side of the island, until I located another sign post.

Sign for Motu Sea Track
Adventure awaits!

Clearly this was the adventure for me, so I left my vehicle behind and headed down the rough rutted track on foot. Soon the track ended, and this is where I abandon all good sense and embrace this blog’s unofficial byline: Silly things to do in Dunedin and the world. For an extremely rough foot track continued through the bush, which I followed, braving thick spider webs and ever-scuttling crabs. After a great deal of persisting through thick ferns I finally came to a rickety ladder which lead down to the shore.

Ladder on Motu Sea Track
This looks safe

I hesitated, but recalling that my byline was not “chickening out in Dunedin and the world”, I descended cautiously. To my relief the ladder held, but the rocks below were unexciting and sadly clogged with debris such as old fishing buoys and jandals.

So I climbed back up, and was distracted by an opening in the limestone. There was a sort-of track leading through so I figured…why not? So I stepped down into a secluded grotto, complete with window over the rough sea below.

Motu sea track, Niue
Secret grotto

Behind me I found a small opening, and I discovered that if I crawled on my knees I could pass under an overhang and into a yet more secluded grotto – with only a small window above letting in the light of day. I admired the elaborate limestone formations that surrounded me…

Cave formations at Motu
Cave formations

…until I suddenly came upon a pitch dark opening in the ground.

At this moment my foolishness fully came home to me. My puny cell phone light could not make out the bottom of this shaft, yet I was acutely aware that only luck had prevented me from stumbling in. Suddenly I realised the precariousness of my position – I’d come to Niue solo, I’d not shared my day’s intentions with anyone, and if I disappeared perhaps they might find the car, but who would suspect I’d crawled under an overhang and into this isolated cave?

(It also turns out that I may have trespassed, as looking over my tourist map indicates a private-only cave adventure in the general area. Whoops!)

Ashamedly, I retreated. Once back at my vehicle I considered my options. I supposed that if I must be foolish I could do it somewhere they’d actually think to look for an idiot tourist. And so I backtracked to Togo. The journey began with more of the riotous rainforest that was now starting to feel famliar. Finally I approached a opening back into the searing Niuean sunlight.

Leaving the rainforest at Togo
Portal to a new world

I emerged into a fantastic landscape of razor-sharp pinnacles festooned by vines. As I surveyed the vista before me I reflected that perhaps sometimes the tourists do know the best spots. A narrow cement path wound its way down between the maze of points toward the deep blue ocean beyond.

Limestone pinnacles at Togo
Wow! What a landscape!

Crabs scattered before me as I picked my way carefully along the path. Just before reaching the ocean the path turned aside and seemed to head directly down into the maze. It was only upon reaching a narrow cleft in the limestone that lead to a steep precipice that the secret of Togo was revealed.

Secret of Togo Chasm
The big reveal

The only catch was that yet another rickety ladder stood between me and the strip of golden sand far below. Remarkably, about a dozen coconut palms had managed to take root here, their highest leaves just brushing the lip of the chasm. I clamped my phone between my teeth and made the perilous journey into the rift, finally finding myself once again on solid ground.

I padded over the soft sand, looking up at the narrow strip of brilliant blue above. But I couldn’t resist one last flirtation with folly, by clambering over a heap of boulders to find the far end of the chasm, where reputedly a small pool of fresh water can be found.

Pool at Togo Chasm
Rumour confirmed

Now that I had found the hidden oasis, all that remained was to extract myself safely. Unfortunately, I managed to slice my knee on one of the multifarious razor sharp edges as I scrambled back over the boulders. Not having any first aid equipment I merely decided to tough it out. There’s no harm in a little bit of blood, right?

So in addition to the memories, I was to take with me a fine new scar as a souvenir to my day of foolish wanderings.

Totally worth it.

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