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Niuafo‘ou*

A cache by moooment Send Message to Owner Message this owner
Hidden : 12/04/2015
Difficulty:
5 out of 5
Terrain:
5 out of 5

Size: Size: other (other)

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Geocache Description:

This Earthcache on Niuafo‘ou* may be one of the most difficult caches and one of the most rewarding experiences in your geocaching career. This volcano is the Kingdom of Tonga's most remote inhabited island. Only a few other Tongans have ever made it there and even fewer foreigners.



*Niuafo‘ou is located in the North Central Lau Basin, approximately in the middle between Vava‘u (Tonga, 370 km south-east), Savai‘i (Samoa, 380 km north-east), ‘Uvea (Wallis & Futuna, 260 km north), Futuna (Wallis & Futuna, 290 km north-west) and Vanua Balavu (Fiji, 390 km south-west), the closest inhabited island being Niuatoputapu (Tonga, 200 km east).

Source: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Global Volcanism Program. Courtesy of Paul Taylor.

Lying off the west from the two main island chains of Tonga (a coral chain to the east and a volcanic one to the west), it is the kingdom's only permanently inhabited volcanic island with a recent eruption history. In fact, the almost circular island is still counted as an active volcano with new eruptions possible at any time. It was formed during the Holocene by submarine explosive and effusive activity from the central caldera and flank fissures. Geologically it can be classified as a submerged basaltic shield volcano that rises up to 213 m (some sources state up to 250 or 260 m) above sea level. The rim drops sharply to a caldera of roughly 5 km diameter. Its bottom, which lies below sea level, is filled with the crater lakes Vai Lahi ("Big Water") and Vai Si‘i ("Small Water") as well as a number of smaller lakes of different character. Vai Lahi, that is roughly 90 m deep and lies 25 m above sea level, has four islands: Motu Lahi ("Big Island"), Motu Si‘i ("Small Island"), Motu Molemole ("Soft Island" with a lake) and tiny Motu ‘A‘ali. The islands and the slopes on the eastern shore are pyroclastic cones from previous eruptions.

Source: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Global Volcanism Program. Courtesy of Paul Taylor.

A series of eruptions (mostly from circumferential fissures) in 1814, 1853, 1867, 1886, 1887, 1912, 1929, 1935, 1936 and 1943 destroyed several villages and left the southern and western parts of the island uninhabitable. The Tongan government decided to evacuate the whole island in 1946 when an eruption in ‘Angahā destroyed much of the central infrastructure and the wharf. The people were settled to ‘Eua where one can find villages of the same name as in Niuafo‘ou. About half of the islanders returned in 1958 and resettled further inland, half way up to the rim. The volcanic activities since the last eruption have been minor and limited to small areas.

I could write a lot more, but this will be part of your tasks for this earthcache.





Task 1. Go to the coordinates. Exactly at the hightest point on Motu Lahi (the 'big island' in the crater lake) there is a majestic Toa (ironwood tree). Climb both Motu Lahi and – if you like – the Toa. Describe what both your journey to and your perspective from up there teach you about the geology of the island as described in the listing. Prove your visit in a sensible means of your choice.

Some remarks:
There are basically three stages: getting to the lake, getting across the lake, and getting up the island. The locals are usually happy to assist if you need help to find your way. It can all be done without any equipment, even without a boat if you're a keen swimmer; both the island and the tree can be scaled without climbing gear. But saying 'can' I do suggest to take the following aspects into account: First, it is likely that no one else will be at the lake, so avoid going all by yourself and tell people about your plans. Second, the lake is not small and the waters may be rough. Consider the different options to reach the island; there are a few boats around (most near waypoint NF09).


Task 2. Become a geo-scientist. Choose one of the waypoints in this listing and visit the site. You will find a phenomenon that will teach you about the geology of Niuafo‘ou. In your log, describe the geological feature you see at the spot by answering the following questions: 1. What kind of rock/sand/soil do you find there (describe its colour, weight, stability, texture, surface)? 2. Why can you find this kind of rock/sand/soil at this location? 3. Based on what you understood about the formation of the island, which geological processes led to the formation of the phenomenon? Starting from those questions, I encourage you to find out as much as possible about the phenomenon by using text, photographs, drawings, experiments, recordings or whatever you find appropriate.

Some remarks:
I am looking forward to your creative approaches to this task. It is most likely that you will have to spend a considerable amount of time on Niuafo‘ou due to flight and ferry schedules so be creative and diligent with your geology project. Don't just take it as a tiresome log requirement but your personal island project. Feel free to take advantage of local knowledge and relate it to published material you can find on your phenomenon. In exceptional cases I might accept the description of historical events or of biological features if you clearly relate them to the geological process you find at the waypoint. You are free to choose other interesting sites on the island as long as they are of EarthCache-relevance and you are able to pinpoint them with coordinates.

Whatever you are planning to do to achieve the two tasks, please remember that you are a guest at the island. The sea, the island, the lake, plants, animals and the human inhabitants form a unique ecosystem and I ask you to value its natural features and cultural context in whatever you do. Malo ‘aupito.



The Difficulty and Terrain ratings are the sum of the overall-experience including the journey to the island and the two tasks. If you have any more questions, feel free to contact me. I will be happy to help you with information also in preparation to your journey. Here is some information that will help you to get started:

The most difficult task in this cache may be to organise your travel to Niuafo‘ou.
Three or four times every year the ferry ‘Otuanga‘ofa runs from Nuku‘alofa (Tongatapu) via Pangai (Ha‘apai), Neiafu (Vava‘u) and Falehau (Niuatoputapu) to Futu (Niuafo‘ou) and back. It takes about one day from Vava‘u and two days from Tongatapu. As of the time of my visit and the creation of this cache there was a three-weekly flight by Real Tonga Airlines from Tongatapu via Vava‘u to Niuafo‘ou. However, the ferry and flight schedules to the Niuas are subject to considerable changes, even on short notice (sometimes even for the better!). It will take a lot of planning, patience and flexibility to sort out your journey which may be difficult from outside the kingdom due to unreliable information on websites.
Due to the short stop-overs of ships and planes (that are too short to see the island and to solve this cache) you most likely will have to rely on different means of transport. If you are lucky, there is a chartered flight, a fishing boat or a cargo ship that can take you. What is more, flights and ferries are often postponed or cancelled due to soft runways, vessel maintenance or rough sea. If that happens, sit back, keep your peace, be Tongan. The next plane or ship will come. Sometime.
I fear that these are the only travel options if you want to find this cache. The sea around Niuafo‘ou is rough and there is no safe harbour or wharf to anchor a yacht. I know that there are cruise ships every few years. But for your own benefit, I strongly advise you not to attempt this cache if you're in Niuafo‘ou for only a half-day stop over (by ferry, cruise ship or plane). There are just too many variables involved and if you miss your outward transport you might be stuck on the island for weeks. You wouldn't be the first one!


Life on Niuafo‘ou is simple – which may be the difficult thing.
There is no guest house, no ground water, very limited electricity, no internet, semi-reliable telephone connections (especially to outside the island), no ATM, no bus service. The basic infrastructure consists of three small shops, a hospital, a police station, a bank and a royal palace, most of them in ‘Esia. There is a wharf in Futu, an airport and a gas station in Sapa‘ata, primary schools in Kolofo‘ou and Tongamama‘o and a high school in Sapa‘ata – all of these as tiny versions of their counterparts on Tongatapu and elsewhere. Life centers around the churches, halls and sport fields in every village. In a small place like this you will have to rely on people. You need someone to host and feed you, someone to help you find your way around. Be open-minded, courteous and sociable and you will have a good and memorable time.
While you're there, watch out for Tin Can Mail (Niuafo‘ou issues stamps but has no post office or mail service), the Malau (an endemic bird/megapode), ‘Ofato (Niuafo‘ou's infamous food specialty) and the supposedly biggest coconuts in the Pacific islands. For some more inspiration visit http://atonganodyssey.blogspot.de/search/label/Niuafo'ou, for the account of another traveler who made it there before I did.


Some literature and sources (feel free to suggest more):
Ramsay, C.S.; and Plumb, C.P. (1939) Tin Can Island: A Story of Tonga and the Swimming Mail Man of the South Seas, London: Hurst & Blackett.
Suren, P. (2001) Essays on the History of Tonga, Volume one, Nuku‘alofa: Friendly Islands Bookshop, pp. 49-70
Taylor, P.W. (1991) The Geology and Petrology of Niuafo'ou Island, Tonga: Subaerial Volcanism in an Active Back-arc Basin Unpublished MSc thesis, Macquarie University, AVI Occasional Report, No. 91/01.


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