Spelunksurf

By Michael H. Kew

Palaha Cave. Photo: Kew.

One could say it was cruel, nigh criminal, for lonesome Niue to be fruitless in its deep blue galaxy of vigor, the isle a static green nebula orbited by oceanic star clusters—the surfy fertility of Fiji, Tonga, Wallis & Futuna, the Cooks, the Samoas. Niue is Oceania’s sole surfless nation. The area is rife with frustrating atolls and islands, yes, but with few airports or handy anchorages, the dearths are invisible, arcane, latent from inaccess.

Beyond the northwest’s slew of relatively gentle sea tracks, most of Niue’s sea was also unreachable. Near the village of Hakupu, one of the east coast’s few paths descended into Anapala Chasm, a deep, vertical-walled karstic gap in a pockmarked terrace that faced southeast, straight into the loud wind and swell. The vibe was a vast and dangerously dizzying froth of surf and chop that slammed against the fringing reef, the shore not a shore but a harsh and knifelike minefield wed to coralline flats and blowholes and caves. This characterized 75 percent of Niue’s coast.

“Much as we saw of it consisted wholly of coral-rocks, all over-run with woods and bushes,” Captain Cook remarked in his notes about Niue. “Not a bit of soil was to be seen; the rocks alone supplying the trees with humidity….the continued beating of the sea has formed into a variety of curious caverns…which the foaming waves have formed…into a multitude of shapes.”

Limu Pools. Photo: Kew.