News from Niue – Tuesday 19th Sept

First Up – the Tourist Report!

Swimming on the Reefs

Niue Native Sea Snake – Katuali

We have been having loads of fun here on Niue and have found several swimming rock holes that even without masks or scuba gear give us plenty of opportunities to see the local wildlife, including the native Niuean Sea Snakes. Fortunately while highly venomous they are apparently not known to strike humans and are more likely to swim away from us rather than towards us.

The beaches are few, with most of the island surrounded by rock pools and reefs, but even those beaches that do exist are almost devoid of other people. What a fantastic place this is! The rock pools and reefs are beautiful and make this a truly fascinating island paradise, off the beaten track, largely ignored by main stream tourism, and more genuine a place to visit and live in for a few weeks as a result.

Utoku Beach next to Alofi

Niue doesn’t have shopping malls, theme parks, in fact there isn’t much in the way of man made attractions at all. It is all about the spectacular cliff and chasm coastline and the coral reefs at your doorstep. That to me is the attraction of the place. Good basic services while really feeling disconnected from the rest of the world. Couldn’t ask for me really – except for the steady stream of calls when I am on the air 🙂

Rock Pool just north of Hio Beach

Meals & Dining Out

For meals, the island’s supermarket was during our stay well stocked (with a supply ship having just docked most likely helping with this). There was a wide enough selection of foods although we were advised to bring in our own fresh vegetables from Auckland (which we did). There are some available locally but they are not plentiful and they are a little expensive. We are cooking about half our own meals while here and had heard tales about things being hard to get. So far the staples we were looking for have all been found in at least one form or other.

The view from Cafe Vaiolama over Alofi Bay

When we do want to eat out it  requires some planning. There are many hidden gems to explore but most require you to book in advance. The cafe’s and restaurants appear to have taken it in turns picking their theme night of the week, each hosting a major event encouraging you to move around and explore the full range of what Niue has to offer. This gives us a fantastic excuse to explore! Highlights so far have been:

  • Crazy Uga Burger Night – Thursday – burgers and fish and chips were great
  • Gills Indian – Open 7 days – flavourful and well done
  • Kai Ika – New York Style Pizza and Japanese – good Pizzas and the Japanese food is excellent
  • Hoi Beach Cafe – Locally caught grilled Tuna (5 stars from me)

Public Telecommunications

The island has an large WiFi network which provides internet access to many of the populated parts of the island. it’s performance however is patchy and slow so reliance on it should not be expected. It also appears to be selectively port throttled so that some websites simply wont load much of the time or certain actions on those sites (like uploading my logs to Clublog – which is proving particularly hard).

There is also a GSM cellular network although currently getting SIM cards for visitors is very difficult (they are basically unavailable until further notice – although I have been fortunate to acquire one while I am here thanks to my dealings with Niue Telecom over my amateur radio license). No international roaming either – so it has been a time to switch off my Australian phones and disconnect from the world. A liberating experience actually! Embrace it.

So if you are trying to keep up where I am, while I am trying to keep information flowing out, sometimes it is very hard maintaining a connection. Best thing to do if you hear me on the air is to spot me. I cant always let people know where I am and when.

Our Accommodation

We chose to stay at Kaliki Lodge up in Namukulu on the NW side of the island. It is about a 20 minute drive up the coast from the capital Alofi. The house suits all our needs and has a fantastic view out into the Pacific Ocean. It is a fully self contained 3 bedroom house, allowing us to live a little like we were still home – important when travelling with my 4yo daughter.

 

….and now for the Amateur Radio Report!

Sunset at E6AG on Niue – IOTA OC-040

We have been operating now for 5 days and have over 1100 contacts in the log. Considering this is a one man holiday trip and some of the problems I have had with gear and noise, and the lousy solar conditions for several days it may be fair to say that is not a bad effort. We are still here for another 7 days so 2000 contacts should be achievable considering CQ WW RTTY in there as well.

Problems, Problems & Solutions!

It has been an interesting time setting up the station and solving the problems as they arise. The first fault I had was the receive chain failing a few seconds after I released transmit on the amplifier. It  was also kicking the VSWR and tripping the amplifier at times. My initial concerns were that a fault I had seen in the amplifier some months ago had returned. After a conversation with Garry VK5ZK my attention turned to faulty feeders and connectors. What I discovered was a barrel connector linking the feeder with the antenna had become corroded after some water ingress. The QRO transmit power would weld the joint on transmit, and then it would break in the wind shortly after dropping the key. This is also why it wasnt seen initially on only 100W.

Original Driven Element Coupler Design

Updated Driven Element Coupler – now with screw clamps

The other problem we were having was with the original feedline to antenna coupler. Originally it was a copper coil used to wrap around the main wire rope used on the radiator which could slide through the coil as you tuned the length of the wire. With use that became a loose fit and RF transfer was degraded and also contributing to the amplifier shutdown issues. So, with a stroke of luck, and a bit of a bodge, I cut up one of the cables I had brought for power distribution which had a screw terminal block on it, and now use that to tightly clamp the TX feed to the radiating element. Voila – no more problems!

40-10m Tune-able Mono-pole next to the house

I have also been battling very high noise floors on the vertical especially on 20m. It was so bad that 20m was S7 most of the time and the other bands were noisy too. Having gotten a bit despondent over the situation I set up the dipole I had brought for 40/80/160m and see if that at least improved 40m.

40/80/160m Trapped Dipole – also being used as a general receive antenna

This antenna was intended to play only on 80/160m, however what a reward to have brought it. It suffered none of the noise problems the other antenna was seeing when receiving on bands from 40-12m, with levels down around S1-3. Considering this, I hatched a new plan, which – transmit on the vertical and receive on the dipole. The only catch, I needed an adaptor to the BNC Rx antenna input on the K3. A good thing I brought a small tool kit and soldering iron and a pile of spares. After knocking up the required cable I was able to plumb the dipole into the receive port and could then select which antenna I wanted to receive on. That has made all the difference!

Finally I could hear the weaker stations particularly from Europe. I will try to concentrate on some of the limited openings to Europe in the next few days now these issues are behind me.

 

General Activity

The solar conditions weren’t exactly ideal the first few days I was here, but I don’t think I noticed! This is the first time I have operated HF this far north towards the equator and the signal behaviour on the higher bands has surprised me. This late in the cycle I didn’t expect to be working 10 and 12m however I have now had contacts on both bands into Asia, VK and NA. I am loosely sticking to the operating plan but adapting to what I can hear. I am using the level of FT8 activity as a guide too.

I have had one good run into Europe on SSB so far and a scattering of contacts on digital modes. The mainstay of course is Japan and North America with a good deal of Australia there as well. I have been pleased to work some South American stations too – a new experience for me as I ordinarily dont hear them from home in VK5 (Brazil is directly over the south pole for me from home – no so here).

Activity is also sporadic and at times interrupted, Please understand my family comes first and if I need to stop playing radio to help my daughter you will likely see me send QRX5MIN on FT8 or similar on other modes. I try to come back after a time but am not always successful. Your patience and understanding in this is appreciated – after all this is a family holiday first and amateur radio second (although a very close second I will admit).

Speaking of FT8 80m was a surprise 2 nights ago with an enormous pileup from across the pacific. My apologies again to the FT8 users who did not want a contact with E6AG – there wasnt much room left on the band at one point.

80m FT8 from E6AG Niue

160m Experiments

One of the after thoughts and now one of the highlights for me so far was the 160m experiment. I didn’t have many expectations for this. However after being contacted by Hiro JA2NDQ we setup a 160m cross frequency sked on 1840/1908kHz to give it a try. Low and behold we made contact first try using FT8. That was followed with contacts with ~5 other 160m JA stations. All I could say was WOW!

 

But that wasnt the end of it. Ed N4II also contacted me and we setup a sked to try and work over 10,000km. Ed, who had suffered antenna damage from Hurricane Irma didnt have his full set of antennas, but with perseverance over his sunrise we managed a 2 way JT65 contact on Monday Night (Niue time). That is a new personal best distance contact for me on 160m ever! To top it off I also worked AL7TC on FT8 shortly afterwards.

The 160m experiments will continue although the next batch will be an attempt at some greyline morning contacts from Niue. So if you are somewhere that can reach Niue on Greyline look for me calling CQ in the next 1-2 mornings.Please email e6ag @ bigpond.com if you want to try a specific sked and I will also try to accommodate your request.

Logs Uploaded and OQRS Open

While the Internet has been very slow here I am trying to keep the logs flowing to Charles M0OXO who is taking care of uploading them to his OQRS site and Clublog for me. Last upload is ~24hrs ago and there will be another one today.

 

Thanks Charles for your help and support whilst I am out here on this.

Details of OQRS can be found (here). To check if you are in the log please look (here)

Conclusion

Operations are continuing and we are also getting out to see more of the islands. We are here until Tuesday the 26th of September, but will pack the station upon the 25th. Also note, I haven’t yet undertaken any SSTV – that will be attempted hopefully during my Friday this week (Saturday in VK). Look out for me on 14.230.

Meanwhile it’s off to explore more of this island paradise! 73 from the Rock of Polynesia – the Island of Niue IOTA OC-040

 

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