Sunday, January 25, 2015

Mission Trip to Niue

We just got back from our first overseas mission trip - to the tiny island nation of Niue.  It was quite an experience.

Here is a bit of background on Niue:

The following information is taken from the book “Niue of Polynesia: Savage Island’s First Latter-day Saint Missionaries”  by Robert Maurice Goodman. We checked this book out from the Takapuna Library (ordered ahead of time through inter-library loan). It is a worthwhile read and helped me appreciate the place and the people a lot more by knowing a bit of the history. Several of the people mentioned in the book were still strong members of the church at the time we were there.

“Where is Niue?
Niue (pronounced “knee-oo-ay”) is a sparkling, beautiful coral atoll island nation in the South Pacific that is seemingly lost among its more well-known neighbours, such as Tahiti (500 miles east), Samoa (300 miles north), (Fiji (350 miles northwest), Tonga (240 miles west), and New Zealand (1500 miles southwest). Niue is located slightly northeast of the invisible intersection of tropic of Capricorn and the International Date Line, at approximately 19 south latitude and 179 west longitude."

Characteristics of the Land and Its People
"Niue is one of the largest coral atolls in the world. Some people refer to the island simply as “the rock” or “the rock of Polynesia.” This island has a total area of 100 square miles-about the size of Washington DC. It is 17 miles long and 10 miles wide at its widest point, and it has approximately 40 miles of rough coral roads.
The island has two terraced levels, one at 90 feet and the other at 200 feet above sea level. Unlike most of the rest of Polynesia, there are no sandy beaches in Niue. Steep, rugged cliffs of well-pounded coral rock form the shore line. There are very few places through these shear, unyielding black and grey cliffs where one can find access to the open sea.

Small boats can dock at the wharf at the capital city of Alofi, and there are a few canoe landing places at such places as Avatele, Tuhia and Uluvehi. But elsewhere, there are only a few deep, natural chasms, such as those at Vailoa and Matapa, through which one may reach sea level. …

The entire island is solid rock, covered by only a thin layer of soil in which to grow crops. In some places, farmers had to create individual seed holes at an angle so there would be enough soil to cover the seed plant. Because there are no lakes or rivers on the island, people would collect the rainwater that fell onto their tin roofs and store it in barrels or tanks (cisterns) for future use"
(Note from my experience: A new water system provides plenty of safe drinking water pumped up from underground wells, usually stored in large tanks.)

"During the summer (December through March) the average daytime temperature was about 82 F. During winter (June through September) the average daytime temperature was about 72 F. Although droughts were frequent, and destructive cyclones hit Niue every few years, the trees and foliage of the island were usually lush and plentiful. There were many coconut, banana and papaya trees, along with many exotic hardwoods. Before tractors and defoliants, Niueans cleared the land with bush knives and controlled fires.”

LDS Presence
The first LDS missionaries arrived in Niue in 1951. On 14 Aug 1952 the first baptism were held in a pool at Amanau Cave, bringing 26 new converts into the gospel. On 28 Aug 1952 12 more people were baptized. A few of these original pioneers of the gospel are still living on the island today.

(Goodman, R. 2002. Pg 8 – 9).


There are somewhere between 1000 and 1200 people who live on the island, mostly native Niuans, along with a small sprinkling of expats from various nations.  Many from Niue have emigrated to New Zealand or Australia, and some to other places after the last big cyclone.  Some of these folks do come back to spend extended visits with family on the island or to maintain interest in land holdings.  But the permanent population is quite small and the degree of established infrastructure is limited.  It's a pretty quiet place with few businesses.

Because of the cost of shipping and the sporadic nature of resupply, anything imported you buy in Niue is relatively expensive.  Niue uses New Zealand dollars. There are no ATM’s on the island and not every place takes credit cards, so it is important to take sufficient cash.  Even if you have plenty of money, however, there  are limited places to eat or shop.  Most tourists who come to Niue come during whale watching season or to enjoy the fishing and scuba diving.   There is no "nightlife" or even much "daylife" for that matter. Particularly when we were there, which was the"off season" as far as tourism goes, it's a pretty relaxed, quiet place.  People were friendly and kind.  The place was quite beautiful.  But anyone looking to be entertained would most likely be disappointed.  This would not be considered a hotspot of the Pacific.  There are no fancy dining places.  Most look something like this:

But for a relaxed meal at a decent price, we can definitely recommend the following:

Kai Ika (right next to Alofi Chapel) Good pizza! Also good fish.
Crazy Ugas (across from Police Station in Alofi)
Gills Indian Restaurant (in the “mall” in main part of Alofi)

In the central part of Alofi there is a shopping area, sometimes referred to as “the mall”.  However, the stores did not seem to keep any sort of regular hours. This is where the Post Office is and also the one electronics store. Other shops are mainly handicrafts and a hair salon, as well as the Indian Restaurant mentioned above. Our experience was that store hours of operations are somewhat random. We needed to go back three or four times before we found anyone at the electronics store where we needed to purchase a power strip for the Family History Center we were setting up.  We learned that if you need to get something and don’t find them open, don’t give up. Just keep trying!

"The Mall" in Niue

The Niue Information Centre is worth taking a visit to as it as some displays about the history and culture.  I was particularly interested in learning about the changes in Niue since the big cyclone that occurred in 2004.

Elders Pennington and Childs who we worked with during our visit

It is because of events like the devastating loss of records that happened during that storm that the work the family history department of the Church does is so important.   I'll close this post with a video that describes that and tell a little bit more about our activities on this trip in the next entry.

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