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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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Situated 19°s and 169 50'w, Niue is an elevated outcrop of emerged coral reefs, 100 square miles in area. The interior of the island is a saucer-shaped plateau about 220 ft above sea level. A second reef surrounds the plateau at about 90 ft above sea level and is nowhere more than half a mile wide. Apart from the rise from the lower to the upper terrace, there are no hills. A coral reef fringes the island at low tide immediately adjoining a precipitous and broken coastline. There is no lagoon between this reef and the coast. The island consists solely of limestone resting on a volcanic substructure of basalt rock. The residue of weathered limestone constitutes Niue soils which, although fertile, are not plentiful. The terrain is rocky and broken, and cultivation is accordingly difficult. Apart from cleared areas for roads and villages, Niue is entirely covered with light scrub or forest. Coconuts, whilst found throughout the island, grow mainly within 2 miles of the coast.

There are no running streams and no surface water but a well on the western coast provides fresh ground water.

There are no harbours on Niue. There is an open-sea anchorage at Alofi, the principal village, where a narrow channel has been cut into the fringing reef and a jetty erected.

Niue lies on the edge of the hurricane belt and high winds or hurricanes are likely to occur between December and March. On the whole, however, the climate is mild and equable. The mean annual temperature is 76·6 and the annual rainfall 79·4 in. Rainfall is generally well distributed over the year but occasional droughts occur in the dry season between April and November.


Niueans are Polynesians affiliated to the Tongans and the Samoans. There has been little intermarriage with Europeans because of the isolation of the island, but there is a local mixture of other Pacific races. The population at the most recent census (25 September 1961) was 4,864 – 2,404 males and 2,460 females. 4,311 were Niueans and 81 were Europeans. A high birthrate is balanced by the emigration to New Zealand of approximately 200 Niueans a year. Immigration into Niue is controlled by the Government of Niue.

Most Niueans are adherents of the London Missionary Society.

History and Government

The first European known to have visited Niue was Captain Cook who landed in 1774. European missionary visits date from 1830, the first resident European missionary, the Rev. W. G. Lawes, of the London Missionary Society, arriving in 1861. Christianity was introduced to the island mainly by Paulo, a Samoan teacher who arrived in 1849 after being trained by the London Missionary Society.

Niuean society is believed to have existed for more than 1,000 years; a kingly system existed until early in the twentieth century. The old form of Government was patriarchal, the “patus” or heads of families ruling, and electing their kings. Eleven June 1961 marked the sixtieth anniversary of Niue's annexation by New Zealand. (The Niuean people had applied to Queen Victoria in 1887, 1898, and 1899 for British protection and the island had been made a British protectorate in 1900.)

An Island Council with one representative for each village (and replacing the old island council nominated by the King) met for the first time in October 1901 and passed the island's first draft ordinances. The Cook Islands Act of 1915, brought into force in Niue on 1 April 1916, consolidated all the laws relating to Niue and, with its subsequent amendments, still forms the basis of the island's law. The Island Council was disbanded in 1959 and reconstituted as the Niue Island Assembly with wider powers of budgetary control. In 1962 the Assembly assumed complete control over all expenditure on the island.

A New Zealand Resident Commissioner, who is responsible to the Minister of Island Territories in Wellington, heads the executive government of Niue. He is President of the Assembly, which is elected by universal suffrage, and Chairman of the Assembly's Executive Committee. Ordinances passed by the Assembly require the Resident Commissioner's assent or that of the Governor-General of New Zealand.

Village government affairs are largely settled at weekly meetings of the village patus, led by the Assembly member and the village pastor. There is a High Court and a Native Land Court on Niue; the Resident Commissioner acts as Judge of both Courts.

Social Conditions

The family is the basis of the Niuean community. The head of the family, or patu, has a voice in village affairs. There is no tribal system or hereditary rank. Provisions relating to human rights which apply in New Zealand apply also to Niueans. The basic wage rate at 31 March 1965 was 1s. 11d. per hour for unskilled labour, with varying rates for skilled workers. The Government is the largest employer of labour but more than 90 per cent of able-bodied Niueans work as subsistence and export planters on their own land.

The standard of housing on Niue is rapidly improving as the Government's £172,000 housing scheme nears completion. The scheme, which was introduced after the almost total destruction of the island's housing by hurricanes in 1959 and 1960, provides for the erection of 750 new homes and 150 one-roomed portable units for elderly people. The houses, of coral concrete construction with asbestos roofing, are erected to approved designs by the people themselves, the materials being provided under £175 loans repayable over 12 years. By 31 March 1965, all of these new homes and old people's units had been erected and occupied.


Niue's economy is based predominantly on subsistence agriculture with a small but steady export trade of cash crops. Of the island's 64,900 acres, 8,000 are in coastal, light and heavy forest, and a further 50,000 acres are available for agriculture and partly in production. Practically all land is owned by the Niuean people in accordance with their old-established customs.

A traditional pattern of shifting agriculture is gradually being broken down through the extensive activities of the Agriculture Department. Niuean planters are being encouraged to develop small areas of their holdings with modern agricultural machinery and fertilisers loaned by the Department; production increases as high as 400 per cent have followed the introduction of intensive cultivation.

The principal subsistence crops are taro, yam, cassava, pawpaw, bananas, coconuts, and kumaras.

The principal exports are copra, bananas, kumaras, and plaited ware. The quantities and value of the principal items for 1964 were:

Quantity Value (£)
Copra (tons) 577 33,088
Bananas (cases) 6,356 7,220
Kumaras (bags) 8,145 16,790
Plaited ware .. 5,213

Imports in 1964 totalled £228,210, over 70 per cent coming from New Zealand.

Livestock is confined mainly to pigs and domestic fowls. There are a few cattle and horses on the island.

Revenue raised on Niue from exports, local taxation, customs duties, and the application of local Ordinances accounts for less than 15 per cent of the total expenditure. The deficit is made up by the New Zealand Government by three-yearly lump sum grants, as in the Cook Islands. Details of these grants between 1962 and 1965 are:

1962–63 1963–64 1964–65
£ £ £
Ordinary subsidy 192,000 205,800 221,300
Capital subsidy—
(a) Works and plant 80,000 80,000 80,000
(b) Economic development 10,000 10,000 5,000
Total 282,000 295,800 306,300

Receipts and expenditure between 1960 and 1965 were:

Receipts Expenditure
£ £
1960-61 242,718 481,013
1961-62 228,014 505,925
1962-63 181,206 422,462
1963-64 194,175 382,436
1964-65 235,043 523,981

As in the Cook Islands, New Zealand currency is used on Niue. The Niue Post Office is also a sub-branch of the Auckland Branch of the Post Office Savings Bank.

A modified New Zealand Customs Tariff is in force.

Transport and Communications

Communications with Niue are limited. The Union Steam Ship Company's m.v. Tofua calls at the island once every four weeks, remaining for only one day. Fuel supplies are received from Fiji by sea approximately every three months. Ships anchor some chains off shore in the Alofi open roadstead, and cargo is worked by three launches and eight lighters through a narrow channel in the reef to a concrete jetty. There is no airfield or flying boat base on the island but flying boats can alight in Alofi Bay in emergencies if weather conditions are favourable.

The Government-owned radio station at Alofi maintains daily telegraphic schedules with New Zealand, Western Samoa, the Cook Islands, and Fiji for news, weather, and shipping reports. The equipment at the station includes a radio telephone for use in emergencies only.

Standard time on Niue is 23 hours behind New Zealand time.


All medical, hospital, and dental facilities on Niue are provided by the Government, and the services are free to patients. A European Chief Medical Officer is assisted by a staff of five Niuean assistant medical officers, two Niuean assistant dental officers, and a Niuean nursing staff headed by a European matron. The Government hospital in Alofi has 28 general and 21 tuberculosis beds. Most of the buildings are modern, having been erected within the last five years. Modern medical and dental equipment is available, but occasional medical cases of a more serious nature requiring specialist treatment are sent to New Zealand for attention.

The birthrate per 1,000 population is over 40, and the death rate under 10. Serious disease is rare. Forty-five tuberculosis cases were under treatment in 1964 following a complete tuberculosis survey of the island; most of these were on home treatment. Filariasis and yaws are no longer prevalent and poliomyelitis and whooping cough are non-existent. Intestinal helminthiasis is present in just under 40 per cent of the population. The abundance of flies on the island, inadequate toilets, and a precarious water supply are considered to be the causes of the disease.

There is a high standard of ante- and post-natal supervision on the island, and the Health Department places special emphasis on child welfare activities.


Education on Niue is free and compulsory between the ages of six and 14. All schools are owned and staffed by the Niue Government. There are seven Niuean primary schools and one post-primary school – the Niue High School just outside Alofi–which caters for selected pupils from Form 3 to Form 5 level. The Director of Education has a staff of approximately 100 teachers. School rolls at March 1965 totalled 1,574. The primary school curriculum is based broadly on the New Zealand curriculum but special emphasis is placed on agriculture, woodwork, sewing, weaving, health, and Niuean language and culture. English reading is introduced in the children's third year at school and, by the final two years at primary school, all teaching is in English.

The high school has five academic classes plus a special “homebuilders” class specialising in sewing, cookery, mothercraft, agriculture, and carpentry. Brighter high school students are selected to attend New Zealand high schools under the New Zealand Government Training Scheme. (In 1965 41 Niuean students were studying in New Zealand under this scheme.)

A small teachers' training centre in Alofi provides two-year training courses for Niuean teachers.