Niue is an island country in the South Pacific Ocean, 2400 km northeast of New Zealand, east of Tonga, south of Samoa, and west of the Cook Islands. Niue's land area is about 261 km2 and its population, predominantly Polynesian, was about 1,600 in 2016. The island is commonly referred to as "The Rock", which comes from the traditional name "Rock of Polynesia". Niue is one of the world's largest coral islands. The terrain of the island has two noticeable levels. The higher level is made up of a limestone cliff running along the coast, with a plateau in the centre of the island reaching approximately 60 metres (200 feet) high above sea level. The lower level is a coastal terrace approximately 0.5 km (0.3 miles) wide and about 25–27 metres (80–90 feet) high, which slopes down and meets the sea in small cliffs. A coral reef surrounds the island, with the only major break in the reef being in the central western coast, close to the capital, Alofi. A notable feature are the many limestone caves near the coast.
Niue is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand; and New Zealand conducts most diplomatic relations—though not all—on its behalf. Niueans are citizens of New Zealand, and Queen Elizabeth II is head of state in her capacity as Queen of New Zealand. Between 90% and 95% of Niuean people live in New Zealand, along with about 70% of the speakers of the Niuean language. Niue is a bilingual country, with 30% of the population speaking both Niuean and English, though the percentage of monolingual English-speaking people is only 11%, while 46% are monolingual Niuean speakers.
Niue is not a member of the United Nations (UN), but UN organisations have accepted its status as a freely-associated state as equivalent to independence for the purposes of international law. As such, Niue is a member of some UN specialised agencies (such as UNESCO, and the WHO), and is invited, alongside the other non-UN member state, the Cook Islands, to attend United Nations conferences open to "all states". Niue has been a member of the Pacific Community since 1980.
Niue is subdivided into 14 villages (municipalities). Each village has a village council that elects its chairman. The villages are at the same time electoral districts; each village sends an assemblyman to the Parliament of Niue. A small and democratic nation, Niueans hold legislative elections every 3 years.
The Niue Integrated Strategic Plan (NISP), adopted in 2003, is the national development plan, setting national priorities for development in areas such as financial sustainability. Since the late 20th century Niue has become a leader in green growth; the European Union is helping the nation convert to renewable energy. In January 2004, Niue was hit by Cyclone Heta, which caused extensive damage to the island, including wiping out most of South Alofi. The disaster set the island back about two years from its planned timeline to implement the NISP, since national efforts concentrated on recovery.
Polynesians from Samoa settled Niue around 900 AD. Further settlers arrived from Tonga in the 16th century.
Until the beginning of the 18th century, Niue appears to have had no national government or national leader; chiefs and heads of families exercised authority over segments of the population. Around 1700 the concept and practice of kingship appears to have originated through contact with the Tongans who settled around the 1600s. A succession of patu-iki (kings) ruled, beginning with Puni-mata. Tui-toga, who reigned from 1875 to 1887, was the first Christian king. The first Europeans to sight Niue sailed under Captain James Cook in 1774. Cook made three attempts to land, but the inhabitants refused to grant permission to do so. He named the island "Savage Island" because, as legend has it, the natives who "greeted" him were painted in what appeared to be blood. The substance on their teeth was hulahula, a native red fe'i banana. For the next couple of centuries, Niue was known as Savage Island until its original name, Niuē, which translates as "behold the coconut", regained use.
The next notable European visitors represented the London Missionary Society; they arrived on the Messenger of Peace. After many years of trying to land a European missionary, a Niuean named Nukai Peniamina went with his friend, Niumaga, to Samoa and trained as a pastor at the Malua Theological College. Peniamina returned in 1846 on the John Williams as a missionary with the help of Toimata Fakafitifonua. He was finally allowed to land in Uluvehi Mutalau after a number of attempts in other villages had failed. The chiefs of Mutalau village allowed him to land and assigned over 60 warriors to protect him day and night at the fort in Fupiu.
In July 1849 Captain John Erskine visited the island in HMS Havannah.
Christianity was first taught to the Mutalau people before it spread to all the villages. Originally other major villages opposed the introduction of Christianity and had sought to kill Peniamina. The people from the village of Hakupu, although the last village to receive Christianity, came and asked for a "word of God"; hence, their village was renamed "Ha Kupu Atua" meaning "any word of God", or "Hakupu" for short.