Our Experience Snorkeling in Niue, South Pacific

Two tang over hard corals, Niue
Tang Fish and Coral – Snorkeling Niue

By James Ratzloff – (Wheat Ridge, Colorado, USA)
I wanted to share my experience snorkeling in Niue in the South Pacific. I expected the snorkeling would be good there because of the clear sea water. It was, but I enjoyed the beauty of the tropical rain forest almost as much. Niue is a wonderful place to visit if you love nature.

When snorkeling there, be aware that the currents in the sea can be very strong. More than once I had to grab on to dead coral to keep from being pulled out to sea. No one is watching, so once you are gone, you are gone.

Also, the fresh water that seeps out from the coral can create a very cool layer on top of the seawater, known as a halocline, at many of the beaches. I would recommend a 3mm wetsuit or speardiving suit. When you freedive down, you can feel the water go from cold to warm. The top layer of freshwater clouds your photos.

Two yellow and black moorish idols with hard corals and rocks Niue
Two Moorish Idols – Niue
Rough water over rocky shoreline showing currents in Niue

Comments Moved From Previous System

Nicole & Galen – Apr 19, 2019 – Thanks

Hello James, thank you for sharing your photos and information about snorkeling in Niue. Can you share more about good snorkeling spots you found so others can go too?

Dave W. – Apr 20, 2019 – Our Niue Snorkeling Experiences

My wife and I spent two weeks on Niue a couple years ago. We are both pretty experienced swimmers and snorkelers and have traveled to many snorkeling destinations throughout the Pacific. I had learned about Niue from a 1996 article in the now defunct “Islands” magazine and had always wanted to experience it based on that article.

Niue is one of the most isolated islands in the South Pacific. The only way to it is via Auckland, New Zealand. I think there are two flights a week nowadays. Water clarity is amazing, in excess of 100 feet visibility. I’ve even heard claims of 200 feet visibility.

However, unlike most south sea islands, Niue is a coral atoll upthrust, not a volcanic island. There is no barrier reef and the waves caused by even modest swells can break violently on the rocky coast. Also, because the island is limestone, it is riddled with caves and chasms. The coastline is very unlike any other island I’ve been to and there are only a handful of places you can safely enter the water.

Hard coral and a swimming sea snake Niue
Sea Snake Picture by James Ratzloff

We found two places to safely snorkel. There is a local company that takes swimmers out to “Snake Gulch” (more on that below) and there is a somewhat protected entry point at the pier at the Alofi Harbor.

The third snorkel spot ended badly. It was the Limu Pools, which is perfectly safe within the protected pools but very tricky when trying to swim out of the pools into the ocean. We were swimming out of the pools when a wave took my wife by surprise and instead of duck-diving, she was tossed on the reef. And then subsequent waves put her through the washing machine while on top of the reef. Ouch! Luckily she got away with only some cuts and bruises and a broken finger but I was seriously thinking I was going home by myself before she was able to climb out of the water and onto the reef.

Snake Gulch: One interesting thing about Niue is the water is filled with sea snakes called krits. They are deadly poisonous but have such small jaws that there are no known instances of them biting people. If you are in the water, you are bound to see them and swim very near them. It is a bit creepy if you are a snake-a-phobe like me… especially when you come face to face with one only a foot or two away.

The local outfitter takes his clients by boat to a place where you will see hundreds if not thousands of krits moving from the ocean floor where they live to the surface where they breathe. It is a sight to see as there is a constant motion of sea snakes. And entering the water from the boat makes for an easy and safe entry point.

The harbor pier in Alofi hosts the once a week supply ships so may be closed if there is a ship in port. But otherwise this is the place where the island children go to swim. The snorkeling is decent with several varieties of coral and fish. However, one of the reasons the water is so incredibly clear is that there are no rivers on the island and very little nutrients in the water. So sea life is not as abundant as other snorkeling destinations (Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii, etc.).

Would we recommend Niue? I thought it was a very unique experience and there was enough snorkeling at the harbor to keep me content. My wife has a less positive outlook on the island for obvious reasons. It is a completely different experience than any of the other island destinations we have been to and all of the other visitors we encountered were there for activities other than for snorkeling.

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