Friday, July 10

The changing face of Nikao beach, Rarotonga

The best beaches on Rarotonga are on the south side, along Muri lagoon, but Nikao on the northwest is certainly an interesting spot.
It stretches about a kilometre, from the sea wall at the end of the airport to Black Rock, the legendary leaping off place of the spirits of the dead.
It’s made of coarse yellow sand with pieces of coral ranging from gravel-sized to large boulders, and the arrangement of sand and gravel changes every time we have extra high seas.
Black Rock is a large piece of basalt, an eroded reminder of Rarotonga’s volcanic past. There’s a channel between the land and Black Rock itself. After really heavy weather like cyclones, the sand in the channel is scoured out and it makes a great platform for kids to jump from. Then tidal action gradually brings the sand back, diving’s out and it’s back to being used for swimming.
Cyclone Heta in 2004 hit Niue really badly. Niue’s about 1000km from Rarotonga and we escaped much damage but the high seas cleaned out the Black Rock channel beautifully as you can see from the video of kids playing there. Since then the sand has gradually returned and it’s now too shallow for jumping.
The Cook Islands’ five cyclones in February/March 2005 had a major effect on Nikao beach. Vegetation was trashed, several trees toppled and large bites were taken out of the land in a couple of places. The toilet block at the Nikao social centre was demolished (the so-called ‘social centre’ was once a building - it was demolished by cyclone Sally in 1987 but the remaining concrete pad kept the name).
Coral boulders and gravel covered most of the area after the cyclones but now much of that has moved along and the sand is back.
Looking on the bright side, the cyclones washed away a lot of the rubbish that accumulates on Black Rock and the beach. It’s a sad fact of life that bottles, tins, paper and various articles of clothing are discarded there (mainly by locals I’m sorry to say).
Hermit crabs are abundant all the time. At the moment there isn’t much bird life – the occasional heron, and brown noddies when the maito are plentiful.
From September to April there are also wandering tattlers and other visitors to our shores.
On fine holiday weekends Nikao is popular with local families but on weekdays, particularly in the morning and early afternoon, you can often have the beach to yourself.