Niue has some stunningly crystal clear waters and insanely beautiful coastal rock formations. The tides flow in and pools form across reef flats and into chasms in the rocks just off the island’s shores.
There is easy access down to the pools which are deep enough to swim in, safe from the ocean currents behind the coral wall, and teeming with marine life best viewed at low tide.
These features make for some of the most epic snorkeling conditions imaginable. In this post, I share my favorite snorkel locations on the island, including lots of photos and even a video of an epic off-the-beaten path find!
1. Matapa Chasm
On my very first full day in Niue, Jono and I began walking North on the road in Alofi. Locals kindly picked us up and brought us the less than 10 minute drive to the Northern part of the island. I loved how easily I could access these snorkeling locations. In addition to the helpful ride there, the track down to our first snorkeling location took less than 2 minutes to walk.
In no time at all, we had arrived at Matapa Chasm.
According to Niuean history, this chasm was reserved for kings to bathe in. We could see why and felt like royalty ourselves as we swam around here with nobody else around.
Many of the pools and chasms around Niue have fresh water in them. This is rain water filtered through the limestone rock. Luckily, this filtration system keeps the surrounding waters free from dirty runoff and debris, but it does have a sort of blurry effect.
When fresh water and salt water mix, they create a sort of patchy blur. You can see it here:
It only occurs in parts of the water, particularly on the surface. This meant I spent part of my time free diving below the surface to capture clearer photos.
By swimming a bit further out into the chasm, the water clears up even at the surface.
There were lots of little fish here and even some eels tucked in between crevices of the rock.
What I loved most was watching Jono dive down deep. The light coming into the chasm paired with the fish swimming around made for some really epic photographs.
It was as if we were swimming around a giant fish bowl!
We spent about an hour exploring the depths of Matapa Chasm. I wanted to stay longer, but if we were going to snorkel any other areas on the same day then we had to get moving!
On our way out of the Chasm, a few people arrived and some began jumping from the cliffs into the water. The Chasm is deep enough to do so—if you’re brave enough!
As soon as they started jumping and we started removing our fins, a small tour group arrived. The arrival of so many people to one location like this is actually an extremely unusual occurrence on Niue. There’s really a minimal chance you’ll bump into huge groups of tourists on the island. Even rarer are the lone one or two travelers wandering around.
This group happened to be part of the people who arrived on the plane with us the day before!
Many of them had gotten a package tour just to see the island’s highlights. They said the tour was good for getting a quick viewing of each place—but many said they wished they had just done what we were doing. I felt happy with our choice to do some self-guided exploration on our first day.
Hilariously, as Jono and I stood chatting with the group for a few minutes, we learned most of them were New Zealanders. They were strangers to begin with but soon began realizing they had mutual friends. “Oh your grandson is Matthew? I just went diving with him the other day!” one young guy from Nelson said to the older man next to him, also from Nelson.
Assumed strangers finding out they’re not so estranged in the middle of the South Pacific seems random. But this occurrence really is not so random considering New Zealand is quite small and Niue (a country in free association with NZ) is even smaller!
2. Limu Pool
We left the tour group behind and back-tracked down the road toward the South. Not many cars were up this way besides the other tourists, but the walk between sea tracks only took about 15-20 minutes.
The Limu Pools sea track ran between coconut trees and papaya trees to a path that opened up and branched in two directions. One path led down to an expansive pool exposed to the tidal flows over the reef flats and the other led to a ladder down to another more enclosed pool.
We chose to head down the ladder first and this pool had a swim-through under an archway leading out to the reef flats beyond. Underwater inside the swim-through was our first sighting of a banded sea snake!
These sea snakes are unique to Niue. They are highly poisonous but non-aggressive. Usually even when provoked they won’t try to bite you.
Beyond the archway was a channel leading through the reef and beyond to the deep blue ocean. Very carefully, we swam through it and out to get a glimpse at the surrounding ocean’s visibility.
I wouldn’t recommend swimming out into the ocean beyond the coral wall if you’re not a skilled swimmer. If it weren’t for Jono, who is an experienced free diver, by my side I would not have gone, as there was a very strong current getting back into the pools through the break in the wall.
The view beyond the wall was SO BLUE. This deep ocean blue color is what you see when you jump off a boat in the middle of the ocean. It’s rarely what you will see swimming out just meters off shore.
We couldn’t wait to get out there for some SCUBA diving!
After this little thrill, we explored the other large pool for a while.
This pool was amazing. There was so much to see—tons of colorful fish and coral, disgustingly long and large worm-like creatures I have yet to identify, and we even spotted several large and beautifully-colored clams!
After snorkeling this spot we almost felt like SCUBA diving wouldn’t be necessary.
3. Around the corner from Avaiki Cave
A few days after our initial snorkeling expedition, I explored the island’s caves while Jono was off free diving and spear fishing with a local. I brought my snorkel gear just in case I found some good spots in which to take a dip—and I did!
Around the corner from Avaiki Cave is an absolutely unbelievable cave filled with cool water perfect for a snorkel. This cave feels like some kind of fantastical creation imagined up by a surrealist painter. I was obsessed with the view of all those grey, pink, purple and orange colors blended into the extravagantly formed limestone pillars.
This as the backdrop to aqua blue pools of filtered rain and ocean water was almost too much to handle. It stands as possibly one of the most beautiful natural sights I have seen in my entire life. It certainly comes as a very close second to my favorite view, which is of the Emerald Lakes on the Tongaririo Northern Circuit in New Zealand.
With surroundings like this, I had to take a swim here.
There was actually lots of marine life swimming around in this cave. Little blue fish and bright yellow fish had made their home here.
There was even a one-armed shrimp wedged in between some rocks.
I loved viewing the colors of the rocks underwater. In one part of the cave, there was a small underwater swim-through to get to another little pool. I attempted this but failed, hilariously losing my water shoe on the way through. Oops. Don’t worry, I retrieved it later on.
Niueans say this cave was a “private bathing cave” of Ancestor kings. It’s also the historical landing location by canoe of the first Polynesian settlers on Niue. How cool is that?! History and beauty all in one spot.
I was completely alone for the first 30 minutes I spent at this cave until a cute elderly couple came through. They had wet suits on and, one by one, hopped into the cave’s waters. I think they had visited the cave before because they seemed to know exactly what they were doing.
This cave definitely is worth multiple visits. I went back a second time and wish I went back again in the evening. Apparently it’s a gorgeous spot from which to watch the sunset!
Makefu Reef Flats
After Avaiki cave, I had some time to spare. I decided to whale watch from the Makefu sea track. After a while, the reef flats were beckoning, so I wandered down to find a random pool to jump into.
The reef flats down the stairs from the Makefu Sea Track are filled with large rock pools. In particular, one of them was perfect for snorkeling.
This location is not one you will find listed in the Niue arrival booklet or in any guide, but it’s worth mentioning because of its simple beauty and ease of access. Lots of fish dwell here and big, colorful coral make this a great little swim.
To sum it up, watch this video I put together while snorkeling here:
Sir Roberts Wharf
Probably the most easily accessed snorkeling location on the island is just off the wharf in Alofi.
The wharf is a busy place for Niue. Lots of fisherman hang out here and boat launches take place off the wharf, so you have to be careful when you go snorkeling here. Be aware of who and what else is in the water nearby.
Jono and I did a night snorkel off the wharf the night before leaving Niue. When darkness falls, all the creepers come out underwater—namely the sea urchins, crayfish, and other weirdos like Spanish lobsters.
Spanish lobsters are really cute (and also quite yummy!). They look like this:
Parts of the area are quite deep (10m). The water is so clear, however, the depth does not matter at all. It’s a great snorkeling location with lots of large coral walls with deep crevices and channels to explore.
We went back the day after our night dive to see the area in the daylight and there was tons more to see. There were plenty of sea snakes, lots of pipefish and trumpet fish, and we even spotted and followed a white-tip reef shark for a while.
More snorkel locations to check out that we sadly missed:
- Two large pools in Hikutavake near an ANZAC memorial
- Anapala Chasm in Hakupu (south coast)
- Utuko in Alofi on a calm day at mid tide
- Outside of Vaila cave at low tide
There are lots of great snorkel locations to discover around Niue. Although we didn’t snorkel every place, I believe we found and snorkeled the most epic locations on the island.
Above all, my favorite part of exploring Niue was getting the chance to talk to locals when they picked us up on the road. We learned much about Niuean culture and quickly picked up on the fact that Niueans never wear seatbelts! In fact, whenever I reached for the seatbelt they often said, “No, no. No need.”
Soon, we would learn even more about Niue and the people who live there—and not all of them are Niuean!
In a few days, I’ll be posting about our encounter with a family from the nearby island of Tonga (read it here!). We were invited into their home and even helped them plant crops in the middle of the night! It was one of the highlights of my experience on Niue, so check back soon!