Niue, “the rock”, is a small island with a big heart. I first went to Niue in 2010 and have since been back eleven times. With each visit I find something new to explore, something new to taste, or someone new to meet. On my first visit, after stepping off the plane into the intense humidity and warmth and picking up the beat-up rental van, I quickly learned the Niuean road rules. The most important lesson in driving is to wave at each and every car that you pass. This is because in Niue, everyone is your family.

The thing I love the most about Niue, other than its people, is its sense of adventure. It is unlike anywhere I have ever been before. The rock is untamed, wild. It’s roads are bumpy, it’s pathways are broken, yet the locals walk about in bare feet on the jagged coral like it is a soft woven carpet. There are many trails spotted around the island that inevitably take you to the seafront. At the end of each trail is a beautiful pool to swim in or a place to jump in with a snorkel. Despite its small size, each destination is different. My favourite find was Matapa Chasm only a short walk to a deep pool in the middle of two steeply sided cliffs. The water is crisp, but clear and the fish swim about unfazed. With a snorkel in my mouth and flippers on my feet I was able to dive down and explore the coral below, fish swimming past my toes.

Liku, another beautiful spot, is only a few minutes walk down some rough, steep stairs, through an archway. The archway opens up to a wide view of the reef and the open ocean beyond. It’s also known as the best spot to watch the sunrise, as it sets the sky on fire and rises directly in the middle of the horizon. More than once I have sat on the rocks, mesmerized by the world that awakens before me. I am taken back to a time before cell phones and an obsession with selfies and instead am filled with a sense of peace and connection with the earth. I feel I can breathe for the very first time.

Togo (pronounced “tong-o”) and Vaikona Chasm (only to be accessed with an experienced guide) are two of the more challenging locations. Togo is a trail of broken coral for 30 minutes until you reach a very high, very steep wooden ladder. With a pang of fear, I climbed down the rickety ladder to the oasis below. At the bottom is the purest, white sand, a palm tree, and a cave that leads you to the sea. There is much to explore in the area, over boulders and through the cave. At Vaikona Chasm we had the local do-it-all lead us down into a cave, swinging on ropes and dangling off cliffs, to reach a lake at the bottom. We then had to swim across the lake in our clothes, then dive down into the darkness, under a rock submerged over a meter below, to emerge in another cave. Only our guide knows the precise spot to swim down, as it is pitch-black below. With heart racing, I swam down into darkness, and pulled myself past the rock. With my lungs bursting, I could see the light coming down from above, but I wasn’t swimming fast enough to make it. As I felt my mouth opening, attempting to gasp air from the water, the guide pulled me by the hair up to the surface. It was very scary and not for everyone, but the adventure was incredible.

There are only a few restaurants on the island to choose from, but they are all top-quality. The Matavai Resort restaurant is the classiest venue in town, but there is also the Crazy Uga (open for lunch every day and dinner sometimes), Kai Ika (a pizza and sushi restaurant). On Sundays a local fellow opens up a burger joint, Washaway, at the beautiful Avatele (pronounced “Arva-sell-e”) Beach. My favourite memory of Niue was snorkeling at sunset from Avatele’s boat ramp, followed by a delicious burger watching the water calm to a still.

Niue will always hold a special place in my heart. I am sure I will visit again and I recommend anyone with a thirst for adventure to go there too.