Floating nearly two thousand miles north east of New Zealand and providing the home for 1,311 natives, the South Pacific island of Niue is not commonly celebrated for sporting prowess.
The claim to fame of the country – which is commonly referred to as ‘the Rock’ – is that over ten years ago, it became the first ever ‘Wi-Fi nation’, where Wi-Fi is available wherever you go on the island.
Apart from that, it doesn’t have much to make is stand out – bar some stunning views. There are no ATM machines, less than 100 spare beds for tourists, and only one weekly flight in and out of the island.
You would certainly never guess that a thriving mountain biking scene has sprung up there in the past few years.
Indeed, Niue’s passion for cycling is encapsulated in their annual MTB showdown ‘Rally of the Rock’, a now iconic event in the South Pacific. Originally started in 1999, the Enduro-style contest spans over 40km and consists of six timed speed stages which take riders through the centre of the island’s dense rainforest terrain.
At first the event was more of a community showcase than a consolidated rally, formed by Kiwi cycling enthusiasts Joe and Robyn Wright, who owned a local hotel at the time. The original idea? Formed over a drink of course.
The turf is tough but there isn’t much climbing. The heat guarantees a different kind of challenge however…
“Mountain biking on Niue has always been popular because of the superb bush tracks,” recalled co-founder Joe. “One morning we were out blasting along some of the tracks. We stopped for a drink and started to talk about what a great place it would be to have a mountain bike rally.
“That evening over a beer or two it was decided. We held out first rally in May 1999 and it was so popular that there actually weren’t enough bikes on the island.”
The equipment that was available for the locals is hardly cutting edge, either. Bikes are either hired from local car rental companies or hotels if not brought in especially. The wheels do the job, but not much more.
While popular from the offset though, the race was severely setback when Cyclone Heta hit in 2004. The natural disaster destroyed the bush trails and forced the rally to take a four-year break before returning in ‘08.
Now, after a strong recovery, the tournament is run by the Niue Tourism Association and attracts out of town riders from the likes of New Zealand, Australia and beyond, and it understandably brings the whole island community out to watch.
The turf is tough but with the peak of the island just 68m high, there isn’t too much climbing. The heat certainly guarantees an extra element of challenge however.
Riders are let loose one minute apart at each speed stage and left to see what time they can clock. Challengers only find out their route about an hour before the start time too, so there’s no course-walks and plenty of surprises.
What you do know before you start though is that this is natural MTB, without any pre-worn trails or pre-built wood getting in the way of your shred. Riding purity like it always once was.
“Mountain biking in Niue has started to grow in the last few years. Rally of the Rock has attracted people”
With the growing popularity of the rally having developed the aspirations of the locals as well, there is now hope that the nation will one day compete in the Commonwealth Games.
Native 53-year-old MTB enthusiast Willie Saniteli, who was previously involved in the organization of Rally of the Rock, told the BBC last year: “Mountain biking in Niue has started to grow in the last three or four years. Rally of the Rock has attracted a lot of people over here and has got young people interested as well.
“If we can get a young guy in the Commonwealth then we may attract a lot more riders to Niue and we may have a lot more young people trying to be like that young guy. That is the aim.”
Niue competed in rugby, shooting, bowls and weightlifting at the 2014 Games in Glasgow, and with mountain biking growing in stature – much thanks to the stature of Rally of the Rock – it may well be joining that list in 2018.
With growing enthusiasm, big aspirations and highly rated trails set to unbelievable backdrops, the remote island of Niue is beginning to radiate with mountain biking bliss.
It may be a full 10,120 miles from London, but if you’re the type of rider who spends their life on a mountain bike, the trails of Niue are well worth a place on your bucket list.