In the South Pacific Ocean, there is a small tropical island made of coral and volcanic soil sitting on top of an undersea mount. Palm trees, lush green vegetation, and subsistence crop fields cover the surface. A coral reef surrounds the isle very close to shore, with only a small opening to the sea on the west side. There is almost no beach to be found on its shores, most of which consists of limestone cliffs, and the ocean quickly plunges deep into the depths.
Niue is one of the largest coral islands in the world. With an irregular oval shape, it is very roughly 16 kilometers (10 miles) from one side to the other, for a total land area of approximately 260 square kilometers (100 square miles).
Simultaneously, Niue is one of the world’s smallest nations, with a population currently estimated to be a little more than 1,600 people. The country’s total population hovered around 5,000 people, more or less, from 1950 through 1970 and has steadily decreased since. Over the past century many Niueans have emigrated to other countries. Perhaps 90-95% of the total worldwide Niuean population now lives in New Zealand.
Niue is about as far south of the equator as Puerto Rico is north of the equator, making for a very nice climate all year round. Located east of the International Date Line, Niue is 23 hours behind New Zealand, or 24 hours behind when the Kiwis switch to Daylight Savings Time.
While it is not a wealthy nation, it is debt free and has appropriate infrastructure for its needs. There’s an international airport to serve the important tourist industry, a television station, a radio station, a telephone network, and a mobile phone network. A fiber optic ring and Wi-Fi serves all of the nation’s 14 villages, and internet access is low cost or free. The government has made computer education a priority.
Sounds ideal, right? Well, it gets better. The citizens of Niue decided it was in their cultural interest to become a dark sky preserve. After all, dark skies were important to their Polynesian ancestors, who depended on the stars for ocean navigation. Having met the requirements set forth by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), on March 7, 2020, Niue became the first entire country on the planet to be designated an International Dark Sky Community.
The world’s smallest self–governing microstate by population, Niue sits alone in the Pacific Ocean, with the nearest land being the Vava’u Group of Tonga 436 km away. Niue’s next closest neighbor is Samoa, 635kms away. Affectionately known as “The Rock”, a reflection of its isolation and challenging environment, Niue has no standing or running freshwater and little soil; as the raised coral of the island on top of an ancient volcano does not hold water at all or soil very well.International Dark Sky Association
Niue’s coastline is of rugged, steep limestone cliffs with a narrow coral reef broken only in one place near the capital, Alofi. The steep sides of the submerged volcano mean the seabed drops quickly, making anchoring of boats impossible. Humpback whales arrive to give birth, nurse their young and mate within meters of the shore and the crystal–clear waters have a visibility of up to 100 meters. Polynesian navigation skills and knowledge of the night sky made arriving and settling in Niue possible and its isolation and geography shaped the culture and helped form an independent and proud nation.
The night sky above Niue must be absolutely spectacular. I haven’t enjoyed a really good view of the Milky Way in all its grandeur and glory for about 35 years. It would be worth a trip to Niue to see, as far as I’m concerned.
Well, okay, not everyone would agree with me on that, so I’m about to play my Ace card. Do you remember the song How Bizarre, by OMC, back in 1996? Of course you do! Niueans are proud of their favorite son, Pauly Fuemana, who co-wrote and performed the international hit.
Now you want to go visit Niue, don’tcha?
Question of the night: What island would you like to escape to?