Where is Niue?
Niue is a small island country in the Pacific Ocean south of the Cook Islands. When the Yass Combined Unit, a unit of Guides & Venturers (Scouts), decided to travel to Niue in order to conduct a community project, most people asked, including myself, where is Niue? Niue is also affectionately known as the rock and is a unique country. I was honoured to be able to join the Yass Combined Unit as an outsider and took my son, Attila (jr), also.
After about two years planning and planning and preparation we headed over to Niue in January 2010 for two weeks in paradise. The aim of the Niue project was to provide young people the opportunity to develop through implementation and completion of a socially rewarding project, designed to challenge and inspire. The young people had decided on four objectives for the trip. The objectives of the project were:
• Provide young people with the opportunity to develop and enhance their leadership abilities, under the guidance of appropriate mentors in the planning, preparation, implementation and post activity phases of the Niue project.
• To enable participants the opportunity to develop further cultural understanding and understanding of themselves.
• To develop, conduct and complete a socially rewarding project.
• To partake in recreational activities and learn new skills that will assist the unit once back home.
After much communication back and forth with the Niue Youth Council we finally firmed up a community project for the trip. The Project was to paint the Youth Centre, which also ended up being our accommodation. This made it a very convenient project. At the last minute the accommodation nearly fell though due to the Youth Centre being taken over by the Niue government as a Swine Flu quarantine centre. This was despite there was no cases and had not been any cases of swine flu on the island.
The people of Niue are all citizens of New Zealand and hence hold a New Zealand passport. This has led to more Niueans living abroad, mainly New Zealand, than on the Island. This has led to a very low unemployment rate on the island and a large dependency on New Zealand. The island has a population of about 2000. There is a great sense of community on the Island.
One of the surprises we had on the arrival was the lack of fresh food available to purchase. Most of the food available in the shops is imported from New Zealand on the monthly supply ship. This included eggs, despite the fact that there were chooks everywhere on the island. So our vision of eating fresh fruit each day was not to be, initially anyway. The markets did not have a large range of fresh food either.
However we worked out a pattern to get our daily supplies of food. Bread was available in the mornings if you got up early enough. Not all bakeries opened each day, so we had a schedule. The markets opened two days a week and we could buy some fruit and vegetables at various shops and service stations around town. The best part though was when the locals came and gave us fresh fruit and vegetables. The soil on Niue that sits on the top of the rock is very, very fertile. So there is much fresh food grown on the island for personal use or not harvested. So when locals gave as fresh food, it was of a high quality.
There is one flight a week into Niue from New Zealand, so it is quite an affair at the airport each week. This also means that the minimum stay is a week. This is most likely why all the accommodation on the islands quote in weekly rates. We stayed for two weeks, which enabled us to complete the community project and do all the tourist things as well. When flying to Niue from Australia, it was a requirement to spend a night each way in Auckland Airport due to connections. On the way over there was only a few hours so we slept in the airport overnight in the food court with some people staying up to keep an eye out. But on the way back we went to a hotel and had a good sleep on in a bed.
The vehicles on the island are all imported from New Zealand. Basically the locals buy a vehicle in New Zealand and then pay to transport the vehicle to Niue on the monthly supplier ship. Most people have a vehicle on Niue and the road system is very good. It is a small island and you can drive around it in an hour or two. However most of the roads are bitumen. There is no public transport, so you either have a vehicle, a bike or you have to walk. Every five or so years a vehicle crasher is brought over to the island and dead vehicles are crushed for transport back to New Zealand.
There are a few places that hire vehicles on the island. We hire an old rusted out van that had seen better days, to get around. With a bit of gaffer tape she got us around. The cost of fuel was up there, however due to the small distances around the island this did not have a big effect on our budget.
In today’s world we all need modern communications, or do we? In Niue there is not an effective mobile phone system. Yes, we had about ten teenagers with no access to SMS or mobile phones for two weeks. Before the trip they wondered if they would survive, however by the end it was like “oh, my mobile phone works in New Zealand.” There is an internet café on the island and we also used the small wireless internet service on the island, though we had to go into the town centre to have access to the wireless network.
Land ownership in Niue was a very interesting system. Individuals did not own land and could not own land. Families owned land. The individuals could own houses on their family’s land. This meant that housing for a local was relatively cheap; however once they owned the house no one else could take it. This also led to many interesting disputes in the Land Court, which is held once a year in the court house.
The Police on the island are also very multi-skilled. On top of their normal policing duties they also issued driver’s licences, pay people for shooting pigs and handle the customs and security at the airport (one a week). However the Island of Niue does not have a crime problem. There is a prison, but it is empty. The last crime that the New Zealand Counsel could tell us about towards tourists was about a year, or was it two earlier, where a tourist thought she had her wallet stolen. Everyone, including us, left vehicles with the windows down and the keys in the ignition and when we left wallets or jewellery at the shops or on the beaches to locals returned them to us. I can safely say that crime was not to be an issue.
Another nice surprise, especially when you are responsible for a group of people was the safety brief from the New Zealand Counsel on the island. FYI, the New Zealand representation on the island is the only foreign representation on the island. The New Zealand Counsel advised us of all the touristy things to do on the island and when we asked about the safety issues, well there were no poisonous animals or insects on the island. In the waters around the island there are plenty of sea snakes, but their mouths are too small to bite you. In fact the local children chase the sea snakes around in the ocean and we did likewise.
In Niue they are not used to or cater for large groups. Even though we were only a group of twelve, which is small by most Australian standards, we had to split into two groups for most activities in Niue. So when one group was off doing an activity the other group would work on the community project (aka painting). The team also set up a roster and schedule for cleaning and catering duties. In order to maintain the group cohesion and communication the team meet daily which was lead by the team leader, Catlin. These daily meetings had a set agenda and with any issues from the previous twenty-four hours raised.
One of the activities we got involved with on arrival was a festival that the locals celebrate by decorating their vehicles and then as a village driving around the island. As the convoy from each village travels around the island they throw lollies out to all the kids in the other villages. So we decorated our vehicle, which involved placing an Australian flag on the back and joined the village of South Alofi for a trip around the island. South Alofi is the largest village on the island and it was a great way to see the island. This also led us to being invited to further functions in the village and on the island.
Most of the team also participated in a variety of church services on the island. Most people on the island of Niue participate in one of the Christian Churches on the island. The largest religion on the island is Ekalesia Nieue (which has links to the Uniting Church in Australia), followed by the Church of Latter Day Saints and then the Catholic Church.
We participated in a few of the natural walks on the island. In the national park there was a nice walk down to the ocean to a hidden sandy, coconut tree oasis. It was a beautiful part of paradise. The boys went to a large effort to climb the tree and get a coconut on one of the days, nothing like enjoying the benefits of your hard work. That was until a few days later Savannah was able to climb the same tree in about a tenth of the time.
We also took a tour of the national park with a local guide. Our guide had great knowledge of the land and shared everything with us. It looked like he was just wandering around showing us stuff, but he knew where he was at all times. He showed us how to get water from the plants and what one can eat and not eat.
While in Niue the Youth Council was holding a dance competition. So we entered with less than a week’s notice. We practice hard on arrive and put together a routine to the Men at Work, Land Downunder song. For our efforts we received a special prize.
The locals and the officials on the island were all very nice and friendly. We got a tour of the Niue Parliament House by the Speaker of the house. He spent a while with us and told us all about the political system in Niue and answered all our questions. We also had meetings with the other government officials and a tour of the new government offices. The president of the Youth Council in Niue worked at the Radio Station and so we had a visit there too. A small group of us also when up and had a look through the hospital and the aged care facility that is next door to the hospital.
There is plenty to do on Niue and in our two sub teams we participated in swimming with the dolphins, which was amazing. Being in the water and following the dolphins around in the water was awesome. My son, Attila, was the only person that the tour operator has ever met that can talk under water. Another water based activity was the glass bottom boat ride. This again was amazing due to how clear and deep the water around Niue is.
Almost every day the group went swimming at the many swimming spots around the island. Mostly these trips would be finished off with an ice cream from the shop that also hired DVDs and sold fresh fish. There were some weird combinations of what shops sell in Niue.
While on the island we were also challenged to a game of netball by the local youth. It became a big talking point on the island for the week. On the day the Niue Olympic Committee provide a match ball and referee. The locals took the game very seriously and they won the game, but not without a good fight.
Towards the end of our trip we had dinner at a restaurant that only opens once a week. They serve a traditional Niue feast. It was certainly worth it. Another interesting point about the restaurant is that is run by the Acting Prime Minister of Niue. So we can say that the Acting Prime Minister of Niue cooked dinner for us.
In summary the Niue experience was totally awesome. We all had a great time, learnt a lot about the Niue culture and contributed through the community project. All the youth people involved in the project got something out of it, with several following up just over a year later with participation in the Vietnam Trip.
Photos from the Trip are available here.