Must-do Niue Attractions, Exploring a Hidden Gem in the South Pacific

Must-do Niue Attractions, Exploring a Hidden Gem in the South Pacific

Niue is a small island in the South Pacific (just about 70 kilometers in circumference), about a 3.5 hour flight from Auckland.  It’s a magnet for divers and snorkel enthusiasts, because the lack of sandy beaches mean it has some of the cleanest waters in the South Pacific.  It has a close connection with New Zealand, so they use NZD as their currency and you can find L&P soda and hokey pokey ice cream sold everywhere. I spent four days in the place and absolutely fell in love.  It’s small enough that you can bike everywhere but there’s so many caves and swimming spots, that we barely stopped moving during our trip.  Here’s a list of must-do activities, most of which we were able to squeeze into four days on the island so they are tried & true Niue attractions. 1. Cliff jump at the Limu Pools (ambitious jumpers can ask locals about a more daring jump at the Matapa Chasm)- Limu Pools are one of Nuie’s most famous attractions for their crystal clear water and secluded snorkeling spot.  It’s not just for tourists though- locals head here on the weekends, attempting increasingly brazen jumps to impress whatever females might be in the vicinity.  They’ll welcome any foreigners who are brave enough to join in. 2. Feel at home at Niue Backpackers– Ira and Brian run a three or four room hostel in the house above “the world’s biggest small yacht club”.  It has an awesome central location, airport pick up and drop off and a cozy collection of couches and an endless supply of really dusty books.  They’ve also compiled notes, advice and tips for dozens of travelers… it’s better than Lonely Planet!  Niue Backpackers is a good deal at $25-$30 per night but you’ll have to pay in cash! 3. Have a cup of espresso at Hio cafe- Hio cafe was opened in September 2016 as a container restaurant with a perfect location above one of Nuie’s only sandy swimming spots.  The owner, Victoria, is super passionate about the operation and has an espresso machine with roasted beans from a cafe in Auckland.  It’s the perfect spot to stop for a pick-me-up and they hope to add cabins soon. 4.  Trek to Talava Arches- most of the swimming spots and caves are just 200 meters off the main road but Talava Arches involves a longer walk through a butterfly-covered forest.  It’s one of the most well known images of the island and scrambling through the caves makes the destination all the more impressive.  If you time your visit for low tide, you can get closer to the arch. 5. Find the secret swamp at Togo Chasm- Togo Chasm was my favorite hike on the island.  You meander through some tropical jungle, then take a precarious path through a razor sharp coral “forest”.  That leads to a long ladder where you can descend to a chasm filled with sand and palm trees of a mysterious origin.  But the magic doesn’t end there… if you climb over the boulders, there’s a secret, moss-covered swampy pool.  You’ll definitely feel like Indiana Jones.  On the way back, make sure to climb over some more rocks and check out the waves crashing on the coast.  The coral pools make this view pretty mesmerizing. 6.  Watch the sunset at Sir Robert’s Wharf- The main shipping port is the perfect place to catch an uninterrupted view of the sunset.  (And it’s right in the center of town!) 7.  $5 roti at Gill’s Indian Restaurant- Food in Nuie is pretty pricey (you’ll pay at least $20 for a main dish) so grabbing a chicken, beef or vegetarian roti at Gill’s Indian Restaurant in the main square is a great deal for lunch! Additionally, Gill’s the only restaurant I found with vegetarian options. 8.  Test your strength (or your stomach) at a Village show day- During the month, villages take turns having show days to showcase their local crafts, food and culture.  Usually, a lot of locals show up to catch up with their family and friends so it’s not just for tourists.  It’s pretty entertaining to watch the boys of the village test their strength throwing coconuts or climbing soap-covered poles.  It’s even more entertaining when the adults (women, then men) engage in a canned corned beef contest, where everyone’s a winner with the free lunch. 9.  Make at least one canine friend- Like people, you’ll encounter the same furry friends again and again and most of them are pretty charasmatic!  It’ll be hard to leave the island without befriending at least one dog. 10. Enjoy gourmet sushi at Kai Ika- An Israeli...

Dangers of Solo Travel But Why It’s Worth It

Dangers of Solo Travel But Why It’s Worth It

Warning: This Post is… Intense Yesterday, I shared on Facebook Leah McLennan’s article “Why I’ll never stop traveling solo” which was written in response to the rape and murder of two Argentine female travelers in Ecuador earlier this month.  I didn’t follow the actual incident closely at the time because I stay away from depressing news but basically  Maria Coni, 22, and Marina Menegazzo, 21, did something many travelers do. When running low on money in Ecuador, they reached out to their friends for help with accommodation and were put in touch with two men who offered them a place for the night. When one woman resisted the advances of a drunk host, he hit her over the head and she was instantly killed.  The next morning, both women were found dead in garbage bags on a beach. Apparently, this event caused the Internet to erupt in discussions about solo female travel (even though these girls were traveling together) and caused many people to conclude that these women were to blame for traveling alone, or their parents were to blame for letting them travel alone, or other ridiculous accusations placed in all the wrong places.  Of course, this caused female travelers to respond speaking out against violence against women and victim blaming, with the use of #viajosola (I travel alone) hashtag trending on Twitter and a poem written by Guadalope Acosta from the perspective of the victims, (translated from Spanish) “Yesterday I was killed… But worse than death, was the humiliation that followed. From the moment they found my inert dead body nobody asked where the son of a bitch that ended my dreams, my hopes and my life was.  No, instead they started asking me useless questions… What clothes were you wearing? Why were you alone? Why would a woman travel alone?  They questioned my parents for giving me wings, for letting me be independent, like any human being. They told them we were surely on drugs and were asking for it, that we must’ve done something, that they should have looked after us… By doing what I wanted to do, I got what I deserved for not being submissive, not wanting to stay at home, for investing my own money in my dreams. For that and more, I was sentenced”.  As someone who has traveling extensively alone in dangerous countries, couchsurfed and spent time alone with probably hundreds of “strangers”, it’s pretty heart wrenching to read something like this because it could have easily happened to me, if God and my family’s rosaries weren’t keeping me safe.  Obviously, what’s even worse than thinking that I could be dead is thinking that if it did happen to me, people would blame me for being stupid or my parents for being irresponsible. Why I’ll never stop traveling solo Leah McLennan, the Australian solo traveler whose article alerted me to all this, came to a few relevant conclusions in her article, “Why I’ll never stop traveling solo” but I want to add my two cents and take it one step further.  She writes that she’s been in a few sketchy situations before but fortunately, “Fortunately, I can easily recount these travel stories as none of them turned into an assault.”  She concludes that the good experiences outweigh the bad and “Ultimately, there’s no one secret to staying safe while travelling, it’s a process of being wise, planning ahead, conducting thorough research and keenly listening to your instincts. While random and shocking, the murder of the two Argentine backpackers should not hold us back from living life to the fullest and exploring whichever part of the globe we choose.” She also announces, “I have decided I will not let these negative experiences keep me at home. Besides, violence against women is present in every country in the world, including here in Australia.” I agree with all this but want to come clean about what happened to me in Kenya because, while this is true, I believe there’s even more to it. My experiences traveling alone “By leaving our safety net, we have thrown our souls upon the wind, exposing ourselves to all the fears and dangers that we sought to protect each other from, and in doing so, we have made ourselves available to experience things that… border on the magical” -Wanderlust, Elisabeth Eaves Part of the scariest, but also most magical, part of really traveling is how vulnerable it makes you.  You’re in a foreign country by yourself, potentially surrounded by unfamiliar languages, different customs, different values and if you’re a blond and blue eyed, there’s practically a neon sign floating distinguishing you as a foreigner, someone who doesn’t belong.  Whether you want to find a place to eat that won’t give you food poisoning,...

Traveling Central America: How to Do It Wrong

Traveling Central America: How to Do It Wrong

My recent trip to Central America proves that no matter how much you’ve traveled, there’s always more to learn.  Despite having visited approximately 60 countries at this point, my Central America trip was embarrassingly poorly planned.  Once I arrived, I realized it was actually really easy to get around, but the lack of clear information online led me to overcomplicate things.  These problems were compacted by trying to pack in a lot of miles into a limited time, in countries were things don’t always work according to schedule.  Fortunately, my trip was still fun.  Here’s a few tips to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes that I did, followed by reasons why a Central America trip is totally worth it.  1. Shuttles Are A Traveler’s Best Friend I planned to figure out the details of the trip when I arrived but I wanted to know about basic options for transportation ahead of time.  Travel information for Central America isn’t as well documented online as other places I’ve been.  Somehow, I missed the incredibly important fact that there’s shuttles connecting all the major tourist cities in Central America, with a hostel pick-up/drop-off service (ex. Gekko Explorer out of El Tunco, El Salvador, Atitlan Tours out of Antigua, Guatemala, Tierra Tours in Nicaragua) .  The shuttles cost significantly more than local transport (which is ridiculously cheap) but it allows you to bypass capital cities which are hard to avoid if using local transportation.  With shuttles, you don’t have to book things ahead of time (it’s easy to get a next day departure), it’s safe and an easy way to make ~10 new friends that you can hang out with in the next city! Almost all the guidebooks to Central America recommend tourists avoid capital cities since there’s not much to see/do there and a higher chance of crime.  Furthermore, I found that Central America capital cities don’t have helpful central bus terminals… for example, the minibuses leave from somewhere, the more expensive long distance charter buses leave from somewhere else (ex. TICA bus), the local “chicken buses” leave from assorted stops around the city center. What NOT to do: I wanted to fit in Nicaragua, a few days in El Salvador and the area around Antigua, Guatemala in three weeks.  I had cheap round-trip flights into and out of Managua, Nicaragua but that met I had to start and end my journey there.   I only knew about long-distance buses connecting the city centers, which don’t operate at night because of road and crime safety reasons (the earliest buses leave at 2 or 5 in the morning then operate until the early afternoon) so I spent an entire day getting to San Salvador on the TICA bus.  Then I arrived in San Salvador, was literally the only person in my hostel and the only way I could get to anywhere (Ruta de Flores, Santa Ana) but the beach was to hire a private driver (for $100+ USD). I thought my only option would be wasting another day to go back down a long-distance charter bus.  I also worried about the border crossings, which were actually quite straightforward with the shuttle (well, for us, the border between El Salvador and Guatemala included a two-hour game of Tetris and a bumper bruising incident but supposedly that’s unusual).  So I booked a one-way flight from Guatemala City back to Managua a week and a half into my journey (which cost ~$300 USD, more than my round-trip from the States to Nicaragua). That was a mistake for a million reasons.  First, I loved Guatemala and wanted to stay there longer even if it meant decreasing my time in Nicaragua.  I wanted to hike and camp on Acatenango Volcano outside of Antigua but those tours don’t leave every day so I ended up missing out on that.  What I should have done is taken a shuttle from Antigua to Copan, Honduras to see the Mayan ruins then taken a shuttle from Copan, Honduas directly to Leon, Nicaragua.  Instead, by landing in Managua airport, I had to take an expensive taxi out of the airport (basically $25 to go anywhere), then pay to travel back North to Leon and I lost the flexibility of deciding when I wanted to leave Guatemala.  *Sigh. DO take a chicken bus: That being said, you should try the local transportation at some point during your trip, for a cultural experience, if nothing else.  I used them in El Salvador but Guatemala has some of the glitziest camionetas around.  As “Make The Most of Your Time on Earth” describes and I have verified from personal experience that ALL of these things happen, “Pre-departure rituals must be observed.  Street...

“Africa’s Not for Sissies”: Travel Zambia Overland

“Africa’s Not for Sissies”: Travel Zambia Overland

“This is NOT a luxury tour”, our tour guide Nika roared his welcome to the trip, his glassy eye adding to the intimidation factor. “Meet Bertha, our home for the next three weeks. She is NOT a bus, and doesn’t come with air conditioning, curtains or mechanical shocks for specific purposes. She’s a truck, equipped to carry 945 kg of supplies, absorb the shocks of East African roads and protect us from the wildlife. On this journey, we will have to deal with many challenges: corruption, dangerous insects, less than ideal accommodation and sometimes, harsh conditions”. He paused for emphasis and sternly added, “Africa is not for sissies, especially this region. This trip is designed so you can see the real Africa, but it won’t always be comfortable. Are there any questions?” The driver TK silently reinforced what Nikka was saying, standing like a bouncer at an inner city club, glowering at us over his bulging biceps. The eight of us shake our heads solemnly. There’s an retired Australian couple who are “expert overlanders” continuing their journey that started in Cape Town, five Europeans of holiday (a blonde Belgian couple in their early 30s, two tattooed Germans with a classy choice of hats, one Middle-Aged Austrian man who polishes off an average of 4 cans of beer before lunch) and me. The truck is pretty roomy because it’s designed to accommodate eighteen but we all scramble to find our seat belts as the truck starts lumbering out of the driveway. Life On the Road The subsequent three days could be the definition of living hell for some people. Three days in a hot van with picnic lunches on the side of the road. One day the bugs were so bad that it seemed they ate more of us, than we ate of our lunches. For the first two days of our tour, the main attraction for the first two days was a traffic jam in Lusaka (the capital of Zambia… we didn’t even get out to explore the city) and an evening activity of spider killing (mostly for the people in hotel rooms) and devising creative ways to take showers without water (our second rest camp shut off all water). The roads delivered an extra-strength “African massage” so by day 2, the Belgian girl and I donned our sports bras, to minimize unnecessary bouncing as we levitated off our seats and crashed into the metal sidewalls. The African sun shone brightly on our laps, and dust flew into the windows. We learned to shut our windows at every stop so monkeys won’t climb into the truck and steal/”shit” on our stuff. We learned to always close our tents to keep the monkeys, spiders and other insects out. We learned how to check for elephants, hippos and lions before leaving our tents for a midnight bathroom run (they actually recommended we hold it). We learned how to disassemble our tents to prevent rolling scorpions into our hand, which someone on the last trip figured out the hard way. We learned about the supremacy of the bush toilet. South Luangwa National Park “Everything in Africa bites but the safari bug is worst of all” -Brian Jackson Our main stop in Zambia was South Luangwa National Park: Zambia’s pride and joy. The park is known for its hippos and leopards, and they estimate there’s one leopard for each square kilometer of the 90,000 km^2 park. Our camp was right along the South Luangwa River, where we could see elephants crossing in the distance. Often these wildlife encounters weren’t so distant: a hippo walked straight through camp when we were eating dinner, elephants feasted a few yards from the bar, a sivet (African cat) made an appearance when the boys were drinking a beer and the whole camp was a play place for the yellow baboon. We did an morning guided walk through the park where a camouflaged guy named Jimmy guarded us with a rifle as Herman (a white native Zambian and lover of the bush) explained how to identify various tracks, feces, plants, insects, birds and more. These walking safaris are more about learning and seeing the small details that connect various elements of the bush ecosystem, instead of getting close to the big game (for safety reasons). However, we still spotted plenty of zebra, giraffes, elephants, impalas, warthogs, hippos, crocodile and dozens of species of bird. After a relaxing afternoon, we set off on a sunset game drive that provided an opportunity to get closer to these animals and see a variety of others. Before the sun set, we were lucky to see a leopard...

First Foray into “Real” Africa: Traveling Livingstone, Zambia

First Foray into “Real” Africa: Traveling Livingstone, Zambia

“Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just ‘home.”  ― Beryl Markham, West with the Night My plane skidded above dried, toothpick-esque trees and skidded to a stop on a small landing field at the Victoria Falls airport, surprisingly small for servicing one of Africa’s top three attractions. I joined the hoard of wheeled suitcases, walked by a sign that denoted the area where ebola inspections should have happened, cringed at some nasty pictures of ebola symptoms and passed quickly through the immigration line. I scanned the hand-written signs of taxi drivers for various resorts in my area. Not seeing my name, I asked the information desk if there was a place I could call my hostel. “Ahh… the landlines are down. If you buy me airtime, you can use my cell phone”. I crossed the airport to the only airport shop, a lady who sold snacks, handicrafts and airtime in a space as small as a closet. “You want to call a hostel in Zambia? They won’t pick you up here. Cross the border and call them as soon as you reach Zambia side. Norman will help you”. She ushered me outside into Norman’s white cab. I skeptically followed. “Welcome to the REAL Africa!” bellowed Norman after he heard an abbreviated version of my story. “I won’t move to South Africa if my life depended on it. More opportunities maybe, but no safety, man. You have to be alert at all times.” We passed through the small, touristy Victoria Falls village and he dropped me at the tired-looking gates of border patrol. The officers mechanically stamped my passport, gave me a white piece of paper, collected by a man 5 yards away then waived me to on the dusty road to Zambia. I jumped on the sidewalk to avoid laden, transport trucks and hopped behind a couple women with baskets on their heads, admiring the sexy hipsway that accompanied their walk. Meanwhile, I cringed under the weight of my backpacks and sweated, regretting the three layers of leggings, legwarmers and multiple shirts that I piled on back in the cold of Johannesburg. We walked across a rusted bridge, waived away the men trying to get me to bungee jump off of it and took a picture of the waterfall as I straddled the country line between Zimbabwe and Zambia. I repeated the border control procedure, then looked around the dirt parking lots for a phone to call my hostel. Someone directed me to the police station where a couple guys my age lounged outside in broken recliner office chairs. Eager for a distraction, they offered to help, “take a seat, take a seat”. I carefully balanced myself on a stool, and kept my bags close, since the guys advised me that the baboons that circled around us loved to steal things. Time flew as the guys gave me recommendations for my time in Zambia, advised me to check out their grandfather’s mountain resort (“you can stay for free”), taught me a few Tonga phrases and drooled with envy at my life. Kelly, the guy in the police officer, begged, “take me with you! I can fit in your backpack!”, he insisted as he yanked off his shoes and emulated climbing in. After about an hour, I remembered my mission and we called up my hostel. “What happened? He was waiting for you at the airport all afternoon. Usually we don’t pick people up from the border but we’ll send him along”. The driver came, and the two police station boys didn’t let me go without big hugs, elaborate handshakes and determined reassurance, “Katie, you’ll stay at the backpackers? Two days? We will visit you!” After welcoming me with a cheek-to-cheek smile, the driver explained the confusion. Apparently he had been waiting at the Livingstone Airport… “we looked up your flight information- Hahn Airways arrival at 15:10 from Johannesburg. There were no planes landing at 15:10 and we never heard of that airline. We thought you might be arriving on a private jet, but even then it would be registered”. He dropped me at the hostel but not without a wink and a “what are you doing tonight?”. “Well, I definitely owe you a beer for waiting for me all day,” I replied. We made plans to meet back up and I entered the...

Going with the Flow: Traveling South Africa

Going with the Flow: Traveling South Africa

Sorry for the long delay in updating my blog- for whatever reason, I was relatively uninspired when it came to writing during my time in South Africa.  It’s not because my month here hasn’t been thought-provoking- actually, it’s the exact opposite.  It’s a huge country, incredibly diverse, in what and who it contains, which makes it difficult for an outsider to completely understand and/or describe.  After traveling South Africa, I quickly realized nothing about this country is simple.  When it comes to employment, whites complain that affirmative action initiatives make it impossible for them to find jobs, blacks complain that their opportunities are limited because whites still have the highest paying positions.  The Apartheid and accompanying Bantu Education act (which prevented blacks from getting an education above what was needed for them to work as laborers) weren’t that long ago.  The xenophobic attacks on new African immigrants are an ongoing issue, and generally speaking clashes in the townships amongst people cramped together but all coming from different places, different values and different ways of living.  It’s a country with first world infrastructure (deceiving at face value) but third-world politics, with a significant amount of corruption. Since it’s my last morning in this crazy country, I have two extra hours before my plane takes off, I decided to down a second cup of instant coffee and write something.  That being said, yesterday was a crazy adventure and my mind is a bit fuzzy and still recovering.  After two days of severe food poisoning, I made an ambitious attempt at recovery: a damp, cold 12 km hike/rock scramble in the snow-covered Drakensburg Mountains.  I was dropped off alone at a smoky pool bar where I shared a beer with the South African equivalent of rednecks then spent hours in the cold drizzle waiting for a bus that was two hours late.  Around midnight, I successfully made it to Johannesburg Park Station just in time for insane adventure trying to find a hostel, hidden between industrial buildings.  Thankfully, my cab driver was the sweetest man who didn’t dump me on the streets of the city and eventually we were able to penetrate its fortress gates (he even offered for me to stay at his place if our efforts failed) so I’m leaving South Africa with my warm, fuzzy feelings about the country restored, even if I’m not happy about the atypically cold temperatures that make me a little delirious, as well as sleep deprived.  You are forewarned. For a bit of (boring but necessary) background about this journey that got me here.  I came to South Africa because I was offered a post-doc research position at the University of Johannesburg, looking at teacher training workshops in the famous Soweto township.  I was recruited by an enthusiastic but vague Brit retired professor who had been involved with the South African Institute of Physics.  Although I accepted the position after my defense in March, I was a bit skeptical that it was even real when they failed to produce a contract or provide me with useful information in the five months prior to my arrival.  But with some skillful flight coordination for my teaching gig in China, I was able to arrive in the country without paying a penny.  I figured I wanted to see South Africa anyway so what did I have to lose? “I love Johannesburg.  Every time my plane comes in to land, circling over the scruffy yellow mine dumps, the thin, thrusting skyscrapers and glinting glass of central Johannesburg, the snaking motorways encircling the city, the turquoise spangles of swimming pools and psychedelic splashes of bougainvillea in suburban gardens, the serried ranks of new township developments mushrooming out to the open veld, and the rashes of untidy squatter settlements, my chest tightens with excitement.  Jo’ burg is in your face, and overfamiliar from the moment you touch down” -As old as history itself, Sue Armstrong I arranged a workaway, tutoring 10th graders math in a township near Pretoria so I was close enough to check out the situation at the University but not tied to a sinking ship, so to speak.  I loved the area immediately.  I loved the subtle beauty of the grasslands- boring and barren at first glance, but containing a rainbow palette of warm hued vegetation.  Even though I haven’t been on a “real” safari yet, I’d encounter zebras, springboks, wildebeest on “average” hikes through nature reserves or private property.  I adored listening to lyrical melodies of Zulu and related African languages, laughed at the local slang (they call traffic lights “robots”) and the dainty accent that made me feel like adding “Cheerio!” to the end every conversation. I loved the spirit and spunk...