Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has touched down on Niuean soil – a homecoming of sorts for a woman known by some as “the daughter of Niue”.
The familial ties were literal as well as metaphorical, with Ardern’s parents, sister and niece all on hand to greet her as she arrived at the Pacific country’s small airport.
The tiny country has a population of less than 2000, but the Prime Minister has longstanding ties to Niue.
Ardern’s father, Ross, has been New Zealand’s High Commissioner there since 2013, and before that was Niue’s police commissioner from 2005 to 2009.
After disembarking her Air Force plane, Ardern was greeted by a traditional welcome ceremony, accepting a gift of coconut water following a challenge.
Niue Premier Toke Talagi said his country’s tourism sector had already improved markedly as a result of New Zealand funding, and wanted more investment of funds to boost the economy.
“We try our best at the present moment to do things which we think are going to change the future that we’ll be faced with over the next so many years.”
Niue is heavily dependent on New Zealand aid, but Talagi said his goal was for the country to generate enough money itself “so we can look after ourselves as much as we can without having to come to New Zealand”.
“I know some of you are sceptical about people in the Pacific saying they’re doing things. In some respects I don’t care whether you’re sceptical or not, I care about what we’re trying to do make sure we achieve what we say we’re going to do.”
Niue’s population had finally stopped declining, but New Zealand’s superior pension was still a drawcard for many – something Talagi said he would raise with Ardern.
Speaking in response, Ardern said she had been asked the purpose for her visit during the challenge, responding in Niuean that she had come in peace.
“If I could have added, ‘I also come with joy’, I would have, because it truly is a wonderful thing to be able to return to Niue with my partner Clarke, because it does feel like a bit of a second home for me.”
It was a privilege to have been called “the daughter of Niue” by some Niueans, she said.
“I hope you don’t mind that I’ve owned that title: I knew when I started hearing it to me by the Niuean community in Auckland it had spread.”
Ardern said New Zealand was steadily moving away from a “donor-recipient” relationship with Pacific countries to a more genuine partnership based on mutual values like sustainability.
She also wanted to help improve Niue’s resilience, making particular reference to the country’s infrastructure and energy sectors.
Ardern is not staying for long, due to the strain her delegation would put on Niue’s accommodation. She departs for Tonga in the afternoon.