E6AG on Niue – The Wrap Up! (Part 2 of 2)

The story continues….

The first part of the story covered my planning through to the end of the first week on Niue. Next up, we explore some more of the sights on Niue as well as finally make voice contact with Europe and have more fun on the bands.

Dateline Niue: Sunday 17th September

I started early this morning with an attempt at 40m CW. Now I am no export CW operator and was using machine generated CW, so when calling CQ it was nerve wracking hoping that I could then read the stations that answered. If they were strong it wasnt too bad, but if they were weak I really struggled. Even so, I did manage 18 CW contacts on 40m. I then switched up to the higher bands as the sun was well and truly up by then. I ran 12, 15 and 17m digital using FT8 for a couple of hours averaging roughly 40 contacts an hour.

It was then time to head out with the family to really explore Niue. We decided to do a lap of the island, and take a look at what made the rest of Niue tick. It is worth noting that Sunday is also a very quiet day on the island. Most establishments are closed. This is something to consider and plan for on Saturday. We were fine, as we had planned to eat in on Sunday.

So, after breakfast, we piled into our car and set off! The plan was to head north to the northern tip of the island, and then follow the ring road around to the sculpture park that had been publicized in the tourist brochure. On the way we stopped to take a photo of the Tsunami warning sirens – just one particularly “island” thing we encountered that us mainlanders had never seen before. This was up near Hikutavake Village.

Next we got back into the car and kept heading clockwise around the island. Next stop was Liku Village. One of the things that struck us was the number of disused homes. We suppose this was a by-product of the number of people who have left Niue in the last 20-30 years. Those that were occupied we mostly very well kept. It was a strange juxtaposition at times.

After Liku we kept doing and arrived at the Hikulagi Sculpture Park. This is a quirky fun place built initially in 1996 by the Tahiono Arts Collective. The aim is to construct it from the “found object” or things that are being discarded. We spent about 30 minutes wandering around the art works and exploring the site.

After the sculpture park we continued south down the eastern side of the island, through the Huvalu Forest, one of the last original inland untouched forest areas of the island, before completing the loop and arriving back in Alofi. Niue itself is an independent nation with all the trappings, including government house!

 

At the end of the trip we passed through Makefu Village back to Namukulu and our accommodation.

On the Air on SSB – Finally Europe is calling!

That afternoon I decided to come back up on 20m SSB and call CQ. After about a 30min run of Japanese stations one call caught my attention. I did a double take as I copied DM5EL – my first SSB contact with Europe! After asking JA to standby, I managed to work over the next quite a number of European stations on 20m in among a continuing string of JA stations. It was one of the few openings where I did successfully work Europe. I did however wish I had a better receive setup and more punch on transmit. It definitely convinced me that the days of islands without a beam when I couldn’t get into the water were numbered.

I then had a short break for dinner with the family before returning and giving 20m CW a try. As with 40m earlier in the day, CW was very sketchy. Conscious of not wanting to have people complain about poor CW quality, I didn’t keep it up for long, but I did work 8 more stations on CW. I then QSYed down to 40m and operated on SSB again working a number of VK stations, before again returning to 160m for the continuing skeds. The 160m FT8 activity was productive this night, with a number of VKs contacted, before I moved back to 80m.

Once on 80m FT8 it was pileup time! I had up to 15 stations calling me at once at one stage! I finally packed it in at 12:30am happy with the day’s efforts.

Dateline Niue: Monday 18th September – Week 2!

This morning we started early with an hour on 40m FT8 before getting ready for some more sight seeing. Amelia and I headed out for a look at Hio beach just 5 minutes up the road. Being low tide, we could walk a long way out onto the reef. The owners of Hio cafe had mentioned that there was a cave to be seen around the corner as well, so off we went. The beach itself isn’t large but is typical of most beaches on the island. Again we found very few people about but it was a beautiful sunny day and the scenery was spectacular. This was the area that the photo was taken for the QSL card. Amelia in the end wasnt really a fan however as the crashing surf on the edge of the reef was very noisy and echoed in the cave. The main swimming hole was also very deep (3-4m) and not really suitable for her. We will just have to come back another day!

We then returned home and picked up my wife before heading back to Hio Cafe for lunch. Again another wonderful seafood dish for me and one of their beef nacho dishes for Sharon. Amelia turned on the charm and was drawing her pictures which quite took the eye of the cafe owners. They invited Amelia to draw a picture to hang up on their back wall. Hopefully it is still there today!

This photo of Falala Fa is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Swiming and Dinner

After lunch we went back to Utoku reef so she could get in some more swimming after the aborted attempt at Hio Beach, before stopping back at Swansons Supermarket for more supplies. We then headed home and I went back on the air about 0400z spending some time on 20m FT8.

We then headed back out for Dinner, for our first visit to Falala Fa, a predominantly seafood restaurant in Alofi. The food here is excellent. We even managed to convince Amelia to try some fish for the first time. After a few tentative tastes she decided she really liked it. It was great to see her try new foods.

Our only discovery was that as we hadn’t managed to book a table we were lucky to be seated. (Incidentally they don’t have an answering machine and didn’t open till 5pm. Hot tip – book the night before and remember you do need to be a little organised in your meal planning on Niue). The full restaurant meant that the chefs were a little busy too and meals took a while to arrive. Our later visits saw us book in advance and arrive just after they opened for prompt service (important with a hungry 4yo <grin>).

Back on the Air – 160m to the USA!

After dinner we trekked back up the coast to home, dodging the coconut crabs as we went, and put Amelia to bed. She had a big day and was getting very tired. I then returned to the radio. From 0830-1030z I ran mostly 40m SSB for a long pileup,before a short stint on 80m SSB which included a contact to LU2FFD in Argentina! I then went back to 160m around 1030Z in time for the morning grey line in Florida. Ed Calloway N4II had gotten in touch with me with a special request to try 160m. I wasnt convinced my modest setup would make the trip, but we thought we would give it a try.

This was a third attempt, and we started out on FT8 on 1840kHz . I managed to work VK3XQ so knew something was being radiated but Ed couldnt see me. He then called me and I could decode him, so at least on receive we had a path one way but wasnt getting anywhere. So we agreed to QSY to 1838kHz and give JT65 a go, given that it had a couple of extra dB of signal gain. We were rewarded with Ed now spotting me in his waterfall as sunrise approached. We persisted calling for about 10-15 minutes when finally Ed scored a decode from me. Our contact inched forward (JT65 after all is like treacle compared to FT8’s lightning fast QSOs) and we made the next step when I decoded Ed’s reply. We just needed the RRR response from Niue to be heard in Florida to make the contact. First cycle we missed, and then the second as well. By the third cycle we were getting nervous as the sun was really poking it’s head up at Ed’s end of the circuit when finally he copied the RRR from E6AG. We had done it, a confirmed contact over 10,900 kilometres! This was a new personal distance record for me and a new country for Ed on 160m. There were smiles all round. We must say thanks to Joe K1JT for inventing JT65 as well for without it I doubt the contact would have gone through.

That wasnt the end of the fun however as I moved back to 1840kHz on FT8 and called CQ. I had a huge surprise when Terry AL7TC also called me. Not quite as far as the contact with Ed, none the less the contact with Terry still weighed in at over 9100km this time on FT8. I also went on to work Tony 3D2AG on 160 FT8 as well as 160 CW for new band/country records for him also!

After the excitement of 160m, I went back to 40m for a while and worked many stations on FT8 before giving up at 1335z (2:35am Niue time) and joining the rest of the family fast asleep in the next room.

Dateline Niue: Tuesday 19th September

Tuesday morning was another beautiful sunrise over Niue. I however missed it after sleeping in. After some breakfast I started out with a short stint on 30m before QSYing to 17m for a run on SSB. Calls came in think and fast with lots of contacts to North America and Japan. As lunch time approached, we prepared to head out with the family. The plan today was to play a round of Mini-Golf with Amelia at Vaiolama Cafe. Amelia had a ball, although her enthusiasm was an issue running around the course which has many nooks surrounded by rather sharp coral rock. As for keeping score, lets just say we played to simply get the balls into the hole and had loads of fun!

After golf, we stopped at the supermarket again to pick some some food for dinner before heading back to the house.

Later in the afternoon it was time to try out some 20m RTTY. Up until now I had been running more FT8 than RTTY so it was great to fire up the RTTY system. It was a good shake down for the CQ WW RTTY contest coming up on the weekend, and it definitely reinforced that the over rate achievable on RTTY is nearly twice what can be done on FT8. I ran for about an hour before I had to go QRT and start preparing dinner for the family. In that time I put ~50 new contacts in the log.

After dinner, I ran on 15m then 40m data before moving back to 160m around 1030z again where I tried my hand at calling CW again. After a couple of contacts I moved to 80m and ran some SSB contacts in the 75m DX Window initially. Unfortunately, the radars were out in force and all of the DX Window from 3775-3800kHz was rendered unusable. I struggled through with a couple of contacts into the USA, before I have up and tried something different. I set up so that I was transmitting on 3690kHz and started listening on 3820kHz above the radar interference. After self spotting on the cluster I achieved several SSB contacts into the USA and one into Argentina which  wasnt expecting! It was great to work LU7YS that night – just another one of the surprises I had on the bands whilst on Niue.

Dateline Niue: Wednesday 20th September

Wednesday started early with some 40m contacts into Europe on FT8 around Sunrise. I then moved up to 20m and worked another nearby IOTA operation on Samoa (5W0RA). I then also achieved a string of contacts with North America as well as Easter Island CE0YHO for another IOTA to IOTA contact. After breakfast, Wednesday was daddy daughter morning. We headed out to a playground we had seen in Alofi and let Amelia have a play in the swings. We then stopped in to the general store and petrol station (which sold locally made bread as well) before heading back home.

Later that day, I headed back out on a photo trip looking at some of the harder to reach walks. Heading north from Namukulu, I first visited Matapa Chasm. This was a favorite swimming hole for the kings of Niue. After parting at the top car park, it was a short walk down the tree lined trail to reach the water. The trail is also full of the native skinks. When I took Amelia down a couple of days later we came across perhaps 30-40 of them in our short trek.

After Matapa Chasm I tried to reach Tulava arches. This was a failed attempt as I didn’t have the right shoes on for the task. The trail is lined with very sharp coral limestone rock, and reef shoes were never going to make it. I got about 2/3rds of the way there before I had to give up and turn back. The trail definitely is more towards the “hard” end of the moderate to hard scale quoted in the guide books. It gives me something to aim to see next time we head out to Niue at least.

One of the native Bromiliead Beds on the way to Tuvala Arches

Next on my tour was a stop at Utuvahi Steps on the NE corner of the island. This is near the highest point on the island at ~60m ASL.

The final stop on my travels was around to Tautu Beach near Liku on the eastern side of the island. Here was another sea track which took us down to some scenic views of the shoreline and the reef.

The rest of Wednesday was fairly quiet. On air I ran some 15m SSB during the day, and then after dinner made another effort to reach Europe on 20m, achieving contacts with Spain, Poland, Denmark, Germany, Slovenia, Belarus, Finland, Bulgaria, Greece, Israel, Italy, Ukraine as well as some USA East coast Short path contacts before heading to bed.

Dateline Niue: Thursday 21st September

Thursday morning was another family activity, with a visit to one of Niue’s agricultural success stories. Vanilla farming. “Vanilla on the Rock”, one of the local farms, holds tours through their plantation and gives us some insights into how Vanilla is grown. Nonga Bray took us on a walking tour through her plantation showing us how the Vanilla orchid is pollinated and explaining the lifecycle of Vanilla.

After lunch I returned to the airwaves and operated on 20m data for a while. Here I worked another (almost) famous islander, Bob VP8LP on the Falkland Islands as well as a few more South American stations from countries including Brazil, Chile and Argentina. At ~0400z I QSYed to 30m and was rewarded with some contacts back into Europe again before going QRT at 0500 for dinner.

This photo of Scenic Matavai Resort Niue is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Tonights dinner was going to be something special, as we headed to the Matavai Resort for their BBQ Smorgasbord and Fire Dancing show. The food was delicious and the show was entertaining. For us it was a glimpse at how the “other half” of the tourists were living in the hotel world. We came away content with our temporary Niuean home up in Namukulu however, as the glitzy hotel life is not something we usually seek out.

Upon my return, I started up on 40m SSB for a few contacts before once again trying my hand at 160m, this time making contact with another expedition, A53W on Tonga. I also discovered that 15m was still open, and went on to work Egypt, Vietnam, Israel, China and Hong Kong before another short stint on 160m picking up Fiji and VK3/4, I then made it an early night, as the plan was hatched with Steve VK5SFA for me to try calling him on my sunrise on 160m.

 

Dateline Niue: Friday 22nd September

Today I made the extra effort to be up before dawn so that we could try to make contact with Steve VK5SFA in 160m. It was Steve who inspired me to take the 160m equipment out to Niue, yet he was the one VK in particular despite several attempts that we had not yet been able to contact. Finally, with Steve waking at ~2am in VK5, we made contact on FT8, and then repeated the feat on CW as well. Steve used his Transmitting 2 turn Magnetic Loop antenna and I used Steve’s tri-band trapped dipole slung in the coconut trees! Smiles all round…

I then went on to work some 40m data before switching up to 17m after sun-up. I then had a 90min run of North America on 17m FT8 before stopping for Breakfast. The band then opened to Japan and I switched from FT8 to RTTY. AFter about an hour I switched up to 12m, making contact with Australia, Japan and the USA before then taking a look at 10m. I ran on 10m for about 30 minutes in SSB working ~10 stations before stepping out for lunch again at Hio Cafe.

CQ WW RTTY Contest – Whoops Missed the Start!

It was while I was at lunch I set to thinking about when I would run in the CQ WW RTTY contest. At that point I had a lightbulb “face plant” moment. The contest started at 0000 on the 23rd of September – UTC! That meant it started at 1pm Niue time TODAY – Friday! So, the time zones and the date line finally caught me. After 2 weeks of “Island time” I made the mistake of not thinking about it early enough. So, I had missed the start of the RTTY contest. On further reflection, as I was eating yet another delicious meal from Hio Cafe, I decided – hey, it lasts for 48 hrs, plenty of time to still turn in a respectable score and after all I am on holidays so I was unlikely to run flat out for the full 48hrs anyway.

That decided, I headed back to the house, fired up the RTTY contesting software configuration and away I went, initially on 15m.

In the contest it was also becoming obvious that I lacked the firepower when in search and pounce mode to break through to many of the Europeans I could hear. However picking a run frequency I could generally hold it and work a stream of contacts. This was particularly so on 40m. Operating in the contest was great fun, and being in the equatorial zone gave me the chance to see some great propagation to many parts of the world.

Dateline Niue: Saturday 23nd September

First order of business today was to visit the Alofi North “Show Day” at the high school. We had told Amelia about the show a few days before and tried to explain it wasn’t going to be like the big Royal Adelaide show. None the less she got excited anyway. That didnt last however when we arrived and there was no big Ferris wheel to ride. We did however manage to find someone selling locally grown Strawberries which cheered her up quite a bit!

We also managed to get up close to a coconut crab. Now I really was glad that we had been studiously avoiding running over one at night on the roads! These creatures are big and need to be handled with care, or it is clear there is a real risk of loosing a finger!

After looking around the show for an hour, we headed back home and I resumed activity in the contest. I had a lucky 2 hour opening on 10m across the Pacific and worked a large number of JA and NA stations in the process. It was only cut short by a planned family swim, this time at Hikutavaka Reef. While it looked promising from a distance, when we got down there, it was very tough walking out on the reef and the actual swimming holes were quite deep. Not really a great place for Amelia to go swimming in. So we retraced our steps and headed back to Alofi and another visit to Utoku reef.

This was our last time out swimming too as we were starting to think of packing for the trip home, and wanted to make sure everything was dry before putting it in our suitcases. Packup day (Monday) was approaching. Amelia was starting to miss her toys and we still had a long way to travel. No TV and only a couple Mister Maker and Dinosaur Train DVDs which had been watched multiple times for over 2 weeks was reaching the limit for a 4yo it seemed, despite having ample fun playing in the yard and building all manner of creations with her lego set.

Dateline Niue: Sunday 24th September

Sunday saw me wrap up my CQ WW RTTY contest operation with a total of 564 contacts after a stint on 15m. I then took a break from the radio for a few hours and took Amelia back to the MiniGolf course for another round. Just as manic as the first time, this time it was punctuated with a ball that got stuck in one of the tunnels on the 14th Hole. Amelia didn’t seem to mind as she took over daddy’s ball and played on anyway.

After lunch, we headed back to the house and later that afternoon I kept my promise to try a little SSTV from Niue. Band conditions weren’t great but I did manage SSTV contacts into VK and Japan. Thanks to VK5BC, VK4EM and JA3OEN.

I then called into the Southern Cross DX Net on 14.183 SSB. After quite a run of contacts I stopped for dinner before resuming my hunt for Europe. I found a few stations on 30m and was contacted quite late in the game by Rolf PY1RO station to see if I could make some contacts with South America too. As it was the last night and I didn’t have many LU and PY stations in the log either I made the effort, and managed to work him on 30m as well as PY2XU. I then made one more appearance on the 7130 DX Net as well as some 40m FT8 before calling it a day.

Dateline Niue: Monday 25th September

This morning was my last few hours on air. Station packup was due to start before lunchtime so that we could complete preparations for our departure from Niue the following day. I started very early on 40m FT8 and worked there for 2 hours. I managed to work a few more Europeans including one contact to the UK (one of the hardest targets to reach I found) before moving up to 20m to try some more contacts with South America. I was quickly rewarded with calls from PY2JEA, PY1RO, PY1TS, PY2RJ and PY2NX. As the sun climbed higher I moved up to 17m then 15m working Argentina, USA, Canada, New Zealand and the Canary Islands before my final contact with K3SF at 2012z.

That was that for E6AG and my time on air from Niue. Lunch was back at Hio Cafe one last time before we returned to complete packing up the house, and dinner was back at Falala Fa for one last meal of local fish. All that was left was one more sleep and a trip to the airport the following morning.

Dateline Niue: Tuesday 26th September

Tuesday morning we finished cleaning the house and loaded all the bags into the car for the trek back to the airport. We had to be checked in and waiting before the plane arrived for customs reasons so we started early. Fortunately all the bags were again under weight as we had judiciously juggled what was packed where and we then sat down to wait for our plane. On schedule the flight from Auckland arrived.

Finally it was our turn to board the plane. We climbed up the stairs at 12:30pm and bid farewell to Niue, promising to return one day.

Dateline New Zealand: Wednesday 27th September

After popping through the time vortex (err actually just crossing the date line) we arrived in Auckland at ~7pm on Wednesday having never see half of Tuesday and most of Wednesday (such are the joys of crossing the dateline from east to west). Clearing customs was again no issue, after duly declaring the radio equipment and the Vanilla pods we had purchased on Niue. We then encountered some minor hiccups with our rental car (which were duly resolved) and a slightly bigger hiccup with our Auckland Accommodation. The original B&B we had booked was unable to take us and we had attempted to book a replacement from Niue with no phone and flaky internet. When we arrived in Auckland, there was a message on my Australian mobile to give the owner a call. We discovered that not everything was as it seemed with the replacement booking and were left stranded at the airport with no where to go!

So, we sat down, pulled out the iPad and started searching for accommodation that could take us with no notice. We were lucky and managed to track down a hotel with a large family room that was available. The night manager kept the doors open a little longer as we made our way across Auckland and into our accommodation for the night. We breathed a sigh of relief and promptly went to bed, safe in the knowledge that we were at least half way home.

New Zealand: Thursday 28th September

Today we decided to do a little sight seeing around Auckland. We visited the Sky Tower and also one of the surrounding lookouts back over the CBD. We also did a little shopping before heading back to the hotel.

 

Friday 29th September – Auckland to Adelaide – on our way home!

The last day of the trip. After a very early start, we got to Auckland Airport without any fuss, got checked in and settled into our seats. After what seemed like an eternity (thanks to a very strong headwind) we finally landed back in Adelaide, everyone and everything accounted for.

Thank You!

A trip like this is not possible without the support of numerous people. First and foremost I must thank my good wife Sharon and daughter Amelia who went along with my crazy endeavors.

In particular I also wish to thank Steve Adler VK5SFA who helped with the antennas, Matt Cook VK5ZM who helped with a power supply plus a big thank you to Charles M0OXO who helped with managing the internet log updates via Skype from Niue and for handling the QSL cards for this activation.

I must also thank Farm Tukumulia from Niue Telecom who helped with licensing and telecommunications for us whilst on the island and all the lovely people we met all over Niue who always were doing their best to make us feel welcome on their Island home. A special thank you also to Glenda (owner of Kaliki Lodge) and Inga and her husband who supported us at Kaliki whilst on Niue.

If you are looking for a remote island paradise to visit (and activate on an expedition) then please consider Niue. It is a fantastic place and well worth your effort!

73 till our next adventure! de Grant VK5GR, Sharon and Amelia.

3 Comments

  1. John Dawes

    Hi Grant
    You guys have my full admiration. What a wonderful experience for the three of you. I have enjoyed reading of your adventures and to fit to much radio into the mix is to compliment you on your time management skills. (I did notice you missed the start of the RTTY contest). You photos also are great. Thanks for enriching our hobby with E6AG.
    Cheers
    John D
    VK5BJE/VK5PF

    Reply
    1. vk5gr (Post author)

      John,
      Thanks for your comment and glad we managed to work on 40m too. As for time management, a lot of the operation was done after Amelia went to bed or first thing in the morning. I would say I didnt get a lot of sleep on that holiday hi hi.

      We have been bitten hard by the island bug too and are very shortly going to book our next one. I have Vanuatu in my sights with two weeks as a YJ planned for sometime in the first half of next year. Dates and new website will be released once the bookings are confirmed. It will again have a digital bias with the goal of particularly trying to target Europe and South America where YJ is in the top 50 most wanted.

      Regards,
      Grant

      Reply
  2. Chris VK5FR

    Great write up with some very useful information and salient point!

    Regards
    Chris
    VK5FR/VK4FR

    Reply

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