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Tokelau is unique. It is probably the only Pacific group to preserve the customary authority of its village elders in the face of Western influences. Its isolation -- and the determination of its leaders – has seen to that. Tokelau sits a few degrees south of the equator. Visitors need to steam 500 km northwards from Apia to reach the first of its three atolls. It takes around 28 hours.
Because they are so remote tourists have not swamped these islands. That makes them all the more attractive. Handicrafts are not mass-produced but created with consummate skills. No cars, no aircraft, no wharves – just lots of low-lying coconut-palm clad islands strung around fish-filled, sparkling blue lagoons.
The atolls are not promoted to time-conscious tourists by travel agents. You do need time to visit them. The weather can hamper travel plans and the fortnightly sea journey can test your fortitude. Last year about 40 visitors registered their names in the atolls’ sole hotel and many of those were officials.
New Zealanders are generally vague about Tokelau – it means Northerly Wind -- yet it has considerable historical significance. It represents New Zealand’s last colonial administrative responsibility. Britain handed the atolls to New Zealand in 1926 after annexing them in 1889. Despite the close ties with Tokelau, the strong Tokelauan communities now living in New Zealand, the special relationship we have with these New Zealand citizens and the on-going administrative developments that have brought the atolls close to self-determination, the atoll communities remain largely unknown.
The three atolls – Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo – lie out of sight of each other. Each has a large lagoon encircled by islets. Reefs barred access to the atolls until New Zealand Army engineers blasted holes in the coral. Now a barge at each atoll carries cargo and passengers back and forth from the ship from Apia. The entire land area is only 12 sq. km. and the highest point anywhere is five metres. That makes Tokelau extremely vulnerable to cyclonic seas.
Tokelauans on the atolls number some 1600. Another 7,500 live in New Zealand. A Council of Elders governs the villages and controls the civil servants on each atoll. Collectively the council leaders and their mayors form Tokelau’s Cabinet, the Council for Ongoing Government. The General Fono, Tokelau’s national representative body, deals with national issues.
Life on the atolls is quite structured. The villagers maintain customs such as the inati
distribution system. When the able-bodied men of the village return from a collective reef fishing expedition the whole catch is meticulously shared with each household.
Despite the similarity of their appearance each atoll has its own personality. Historically they were rivals. Because of their separation, services like schools, hospitals, FM radio stations, power generators and cooperative stores are in triplicate.
Nukunonu, however, has the only recognized hotel, the Luana Liki, run by Luciano Perez and his wife Juliana. This is an effective base for holiday operations such as snorkeling, fishing, crab hunting, picnicking or camping on an outer island – Luciano can arrange this.
Visitors can arrange accommodation through the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office in Apia or directly with the Luana Liki hotel. Although accessibility may deter some visitors, Tokelau offers travellers who think they’ve been everywhere and done everything a unique, not to be missed experience. Besides, how many world travellers can boast a “Tokelau” immigration stamp in their passports.
Tokelau Apia Liaison Office Tel: 685 20822/23 Fax: 685 21761