We were fortunate enough to be on the island of Niue for their 40th Anniversary of Independence as a nation. Prior to that, New Zealand (under England) had governed their small nation. The festivities were endless for an entire week with school open houses, farmer’s markets, an excellent dance presentation of all the surrounding island cultural dances, and a huge feast literally feeding everyone on the island that was hosted and served by the New Zealand Navy, who were there in solidarity to support the independence of this small country.
Our boat was tied up on a mooring just off of the main town of Alofi along with a few other boats, including two other “kid boats.” We had fascinated at this large naval ship when it had arrived. The other family was a Canadian naval family, so they were equally, if not moreso, impressed with the vessel. At this amazing feast of a dinner, I noticed a very young, but well presented young man in a naval officer’s attire. He had lots of stripes on his shoulder, so one could assume he was a high ranking fellow. I went up and introduced myself. He was cordial and pleasant. After a brief period of small talk, I had to simply ask, “Do you give tours of your vessel?” (All of us cruisers wanted a tour, someone was going to have to break down and simply ask!) He indicated that they do, but they had this event all evening and were leaving at 13:00 tomorrow. I told him we were free in the morning and had 6 children on our boat that would REALLY love the learning experience of seeing what those ships are like from the inside. He said to meet them on the dock at 09:00 and they would pick us up for a tour. They did not want our dinghy coming to their boat. Then the final question, “Can I bring along two other families too?”
Needless to say, we were on that dock well before 09:00 so as to not disturb the order of things when they were doing us a favor!! They came in their wave-breaking dinghies, put lifejackets on us, and strapped us onto our bucking bronco chair. And we were off!!
This ship did not look gigantic, but when you were on it, it felt massive. They took us to their break room where they showed us a short video about their boat and navy in general. I enjoyed the educational video, but enjoyed the lounge even more. Leather chairs, a bowl of fruit, air conditioning, a TV, carpet?? It was luxurious to boat standards.
Then they took us up to the control deck. The views were awesome and the windows huge! The kids weren’t even tall enough to see out of them, so they helped them find a seat with a view. They explained to us all of their navigation equipment, communications and other apparatuses at their disposal. They explained to us their missions and purpose. In New Zealand, the threat of war is not so great, but they do patrol their waters for any undocumented vessels, suspicious activities, or boats in danger. They do training exercises and the captain stated that pretty much every year they are doing disaster relief work following a cyclone. The question in this region is not really if, but when and where the cyclone will hit. This captain is only 34 years old and his particular specialty was working with amphibious landings, although he seems to have a knack for the tourist industry.
One of the officers showed the children their sextant and how they use it to navigate. It’s an unfamiliar item for newer sailors, but well known to those with experience!
The engine room was quite simply amazing! So vast! So much power! And so clean!!! The captains of all the boats were beside themselves in this room, so many questions and so impressive.
We worked our way upstairs to the helipad and “garage” space. They have a basketball court set up in the “garage” with their exercise equipment. Obviously being in the navy requires a certain level of fitness. And when they go out to sea for months at a time, they are expected to maintain that level of fitness. On the back of this same deck are large storage containers filled with their food supplies for months on end. One was refrigerated, like a huge walk in fridge!
After a few photos on deck, they had to keep moving to prepare for their 13:00 departure and we were hot and sweaty and ready for a swim. They loaded us all back up, safe and secure in jackets and buckles, and took us back to the jetty. Such gentlemen, all of them, helping with the children and making sure we survived our visit without a ding.
Of course, we couldn’t help ourselves and took a quick dip off the rope swing to cool down once we hit the jetty. But then it was straight to work!! We went and baked 6 dozen cookies, which we pulled quickly out of the oven, straight onto paper plates and rushed off to our new friends on the Otago!! They were leaving Niue, but they weren’t heading home to New Zealand yet (they couldn’t tell us where, just that it wasn’t home yet). Their cook was good to them, but cookies were a rarity. They had already pulled up their boats and ramps and the anchor was coming up by the time we arrived with the cookies. From the fly bridge, they waved us around to the back, but we had to holler to talk to the people on deck and there was no place for us to land the treats. But these guys are not just hard working, they’re smart too! They ran downstairs, grabbed a crate, tied it up with ropes and lowered it down to us. We piled the plates of cookies into the crate and they hoisted them onboard the ship with a big smile! What an amazing experience for us and how wonderful of them to have shared and made it possible!!