ABOUT a month ago I was swimming with a turtle and watching whales flap their tails, on a blissful holiday in Niue.
This tiny, unspoilt island is one I return to every four-to-five years, finances permitting. The snorkelling is stunning and easy to access, the caves magnificent, the people friendly and relaxed.
In recent years a couple of restaurants and coffee bars have appeared, so a decent flat white is there for the asking. At one bar there’s an honesty box. You are exhorted to choose your beers and write your name down in the book. The owner, at sea, plans to be back with fresh fish for the paninis soon and you can pay up then.
Niueans seem to have a relaxed approach to misdemeanours too. I was told the jail is lock free. Prisoners work on the golf course and usually return there in the evening, though I believe police were surprised when they arrived at a their party recently.
Uga is the name of the large crabs that crawl up from the sea to breed. I remember one visitor buying some live ones from the market, all tied together. Sadly the visitor underestimated the crabs’ dexterity.
They managed to free themselves in his car, dived into the engine and cut through the wiring. Crazy Uga is the name of an excellent coffee bar in Alofi, the capital and home to the Niuean Parliament. That was where I was spotted by a former colleague and her husband who now live on Niue. Long-term Kawerau identities Cheetah and Lia Savage returned to Lia’s home village about eight years ago.
Even though it’s a small island, with a population of only 1800, Niue is not exactly overcrowded. However the numbers are slowly rising, with retirees from the 24,000 Niueans in this country and Australia.
I asked Lia why she chose to return and she told me their story. Cheetah was at the Kawerau mill for most of his working life, while Lia worked in mental health. Lia was brought up in Niue until she was nine years old, and in 2011 she returned to care for her mother.
After years in the workforce she found the change she really needed. Her only regret is that she didn’t make the transition home sooner. “You don’t have a clock to dictate to you.
There’s no rush here.”
Niueans returning from New Zealand bring their superannuation with them and find it is easier to live without rent, rates, or insurances. Imported food is more expensive but much free food can be sourced, from gardens, the bush and the sea. And in an island of only 261 square kilometres they don’t clock up a lot of mileage, though the potholes can cause havoc with shock absorbers.
The villages are small and no one is ever isolated. Lia notes that people look after each other. My partner and I saw an elderly woman wandering down the road in the north. She fell and was quickly surrounded by people who picked her up, mopped up the blood and took her home.
I was told her mind wanders but she is safe as she stays on the road and does not enter the bush or beach. Hers would seem a richer life than people here in rest home dementia care.
Lia invited us to their home and we can attest to a comfortable home, good company and delicious food, including home baked bread. This was followed by a dip in a small pool reached by steep steps descending through a crevasse.
Niue certainly beckons as a place for retirees. It is no longer far from civilisation as we know it. Flights are twice weekly in the winter and Lia and Cheetah are shortly due to return for a holiday here, their annual trip to keep their strong ties with friends in this country.
Internet is slow, but they have begun work on the infrastructure for the new 5G network due to go live in September, well before we get one here. They have a hospital and no fewer than five doctors.
Thank you Lia and Cheetah. I believe you have made the right choice, and you made our stay much more interesting.
By Ruth Gerzon