A three hour direct flight from Auckland had us touching down on the island. We were greeted by 30+ degree temperatures so even the short struggle with our excess baggage to the hotel’s courtesy van left us sweltering and angling for the best position for the van’s air conditioning.
A short wait and we were off - the tall trees and scrub on both sides of the road to the hotel wiping out any view to the ocean. Any disappointment vanished as it was only 15 minutes to the hotel and, after a quick check-in, we were straight out on to the sun decks to see the ocean and what it had to offer us.
‘The Rock’ as it’s called is more like a mushroom with the island sitting in the centre and the reef gradually dropping away to the abyss.Very deep drop-offs were often only 100m offshore so a short swim could find you peering into the deep unknown.
Before we got into the spearing it was important to know a few local rules which we needed to respect and abide by. Niue is an island where fishing is a way of life, as well as providing food for the locals. In the past, cultural differences between the western world and local Niueans have left a bitter taste with the locals so understanding the rules of the rock left us with a clear game plan. Local representation is a must for any one going spearfishing in Niue. Word travels fast around the island and it was not to long before we had people stopping us in the street asking about our plans.
After arriving on the Saturday we had a free afternoon before we would meet our local guide. Looking out from the hotel deck we noticed a steep bank leading to the reef below and, after asking a few questions, were shown the track that would lead us down to the water’s edge.We had been told not to spear without a local, so with this in mind, we had no real issues about meeting our guide before taking the guns into the water. Using the afternoon to check out the reef with no armoury not only worked to our advantage but also made our stay more welcome. We were pleasantly surprised with good clear vis to 40m with it getting harder to make out fish at 50m+. We met our guide that evening and over a cold beer at the bar, discussed a few ground rules about spearing. Firstly - no shooting on the reef. Tom and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows but as we had only been for a ‘look’ and taken some great photos – we were off to an encouraging start.
Our second day on the island was Sunday – a day for church and family, a‘no fishing’ day. We opted for a quiet, no guns swim to one of the island’s headlands which provided us with some good local knowledge. We sighted some very impressive coral trout, Maori wrasse, coronation trout and many other species - all in abundance. All species were off limits, regardless of the day... if you’re close to the reef, then the ‘no shooting’ rule applies.
Our first day spearfishing had us amped – we were all geared up and still 30 minutes early to meet our guide at the local boat ramp. We had a quick ride out to the deeper part of the reef out near the drop-off. Slipping into the water we were soon peering into the abyss. The flasher was working overtime and soon we had a nice barracuda sleeking past us - an easy shot providing some much need burly. The flasher was humming and the burly was being cut into shreds. Minutes turned into disappointing hours coupled with a touch of vertigo from staring into the abyss for such a long time. The conditions were near perfect for a honeymoon but for spearing we had to make some changes. The water temp was just over 30 degrees and at 25m it was still close to 29. We had the tides right but the temperature led us to believe the fish were holding up deep. With the ‘no take’ policy on the reef, and the need for burly, the barracuda were getting the message that we were not on holiday and became less inclined to cooperate.Heading in we knew we had burly issues or lack of it, and that the warm water was keeping the fish deep.Our guide sorted the burly problem for the next day with some flying fish and we arranged to depart a lot earlier to hopefully get the cooler water before the sun started baking it.
Slipping into the water the next morning we had all hopes of this day being the one. The flasher was doing its thing and the burly was slowly drifting. Our eyes peered into the distance to see the emerging shape of...yes it was our first wahoo! The fish kept its distance, but when Tom dropped towards it, the fish moved off. At least we saw one…a good sign I guess. We worked together, one on the burly and flasher, and one as the shooter as this gave us all the space needed to either make it happen or not. Within 15 minutes we had our second wahoo gliding in to see us and again it was keeping its distance. Tom was on the flasher and I had moved around ten metres away. With the flasher in front of me, the fading wahoo was curious but still kept its distance. I dived toward the flasher on a 45 degree angle but still keeping the wahoo in my peripheral vision. The wahoo turned to come straight in, providing me with a nice shot - a short burst from the fish and the fight was over. The flasher was the wahoo’s objective and I was not a threat once I dived away from the fish…a great technique that we used on many more fish on our trip. With one fish in the boat the pressure was on for another. We moved 200m up the reef, pre-cut the burly and we were ready to go. We entered the water, carefully releasing the burly and using the flasher at around 18m. Drifting in from below we had our sights on our next wahoo.Tom descended once again to the flasher then drifted off to the approaching wahoo. Once within range, Tom fired and stoned the fish with an excellent shot - a great fish weighing around 23kg. So we had the wahoo sorted but still had issues with the tides and getting some good current to help the burly drift. From what we could see the tides were only around one to two metres between the high and the low. Still not entirely happy with the burly, we made a quick trip around the island and found a very generous commercial fisherman who gave us some blue marlin for a small fee. Our burly issues had been solved and the promise of fish to the hotel had our blue marlin being stored in their kitchen freezer.
Our next day had us out even earlier. Low light and an early burly seemed to do the trick. Entering the water as we had done previously and still just preparing to unwind the flasher, we had not even loaded our guns when we saw a wahoo right below us. All sense of order was lost for a few moments, with the fish drifting away probably wondering what these two things in the water were trying to do.We gathered ourselves together and got into a routine….watching and waiting. In drifted a wahoo which we estimated to be over 40kg. We both looked at each other and said a few words which I can’t write here. The fish came in so quickly we could not react and just watched it disappear We hoped it would return - but it did not. We both secured two more nice fish for the day, but nothing to beat Tom’s fish of 23kg from the previous day. We lost two others - one to a shooting line snapping and the other to the fish pulling off.
We wanted to try for some dog tooth tuna, so at first light the next morning we moved closer to the reef and started burleying at 30m. Barracuda drifted in along with some very large job fish. We peered down to see our first doggies streaking past. We had a good stream of burly being evenly dispensed down into the depths with a few small mackerel moving around and eating up the smaller bits of burly. Within 20 minutes we had a school of mackerel destroying our burly – there were so many fish we could not see through them, making it near impossible to even see the doggies. Our only hope was to chop the burly into bigger bits so there were still small bits left for the doggies to eat. One of the other methods that we found successful was to take the burly to around 15m and then disperse it at depth, thereby giving the target species a chance to eat it. We only ever had a few doggies approach us close enough to even have a shot. Tom placed a nice shot into one of around 16kg. It fought like all doggies do, but unfortunately it tore itself off within seconds. The change of light was the key to targeting doggies in Niue.
I thought I should also mention our gear and what we found worked for us. We chose the 2 AT Riffe float with 75ft Riffe hard lines straight to the breakaway, but found we needed the 100’s as the visibility and conditions kept us diving deep. We lost very little fish with this rig. We had a mixture of weapons in the gun department. Tom had his new rear handle Daryl Wong 3 band speargun with an 8mm shaft and a Wong slip-tip. There were some great shots from Tom using this gun for the first time - even a squid between the eyes at 5metres. We had a 1.5 Freedivers Euro gun with 7.1mm shafts and some custom slip-tips, called pro-points which are manufactured in New Zealand by Ocean Hunter, for backup. The pro-points delivered very accurate long shots and were all run on breakaways using the hard lines. A unique feature of the pro-point is that the small fitting that threads onto your shaft has a sharp point. The pro-point then slides over this point. This is a great shark defence tool as you still have a sharp spear for protection if your tip is removed. We also had some Riffe bungies - but found that the hard lines did the trick on all occasions. Bungees can be used on a reef but the depth and power of the fish can have you tied up pretty quickly, so we stuck to using bungees in the open water.
Our trip was full of great experiences and it is a destination that I do want to revisit. A change of water temperature would make the diving more enjoyable, along with less mackerel. Other great Niuean experiences include onga hunting at night, night diving for crayfish, and amazing sights for all to enjoy. Record fish are only a shore dive away and the deep abyss is only a short swim from the beach. Work with the locals and make sure you abide by the rules… Niue is a destination which survives on tourism, the doors are opening for spearfishing and as long as you follow the rules you will have a great time..
A big thank you to all those locals who opened their doors for us. Our local spearfishing guide Willie gave us a great time and I would recommend him to anyone visiting the island. Niue has one flight per week from Auckland arriving on a Saturday, and the island population of around 900 welcomes all visitors - even the expats living on the island open their doors for you!
We said we would come back to this island paradise and since writing this story we have pencilled in a return trip to ‘the Rock’ for August 2009.