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The great dilemma of anthro-tourism in the Pacific is that in order to get to the places where cultures are most traditional and least touched by modernity, you have a real challenge awaiting you in terms of transportation and getting there. Sure, places like Tonga and Samoa serve up a bit of culture, but theirs is watered down. Tokelau is an anthro-tourist's dream - century old traditions shaped by Christianity is the basic way of life here - but is difficult to get to, with a fortnightly ship running between it and Samoa being the only way of getting there (unless you own your own boat).
There is a lack of things to do other than swimming, snorkelling and fishing, so make sure you like those activities before you come. If you do, the islands' coral reefs and lagoons offer marvelous visibility and stunning scenery.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the atolls of Tokelau - Atafu, Nukunonu, and Fakaofo - were settled about 1,000 years ago, probably by voyages from Samoa, the Cook Islands and Tuvalu. Commodore John Byron discovered Atafu on 24 June 1765 and named it "Duke of York's Island." Parties onshore reported that there were no signs of current or previous inhabitants. Captain Edward Edwards, in knowledge of Byron's discovery, visited Atafu on 6 June 1791 in search of the Bounty mutineers. On 25 January 1841, the United States Exploring Expedition visited Atafu and discovered a small population living on the island. The residents appeared to be temporary, evidenced by the lack of a chief and the possession of double canoes (used for inter-island travel). Missionaries preached Christianity in Tokelau from 1845 to the 1860s. French Catholic missionaries on Wallis Island (also known as 'Uvea) and missionaries of the Protestant London Missionary Society in Samoa used native teachers to convert the Tokelauans. Atafu was converted to Protestantism by the London Missionary Society, Nukunonu was converted to Catholicism and Fakaofo was converted to both denominations. In 1877 the islands were included under the protection of Great Britain by an Order-in-council which claimed jurisdiction over all unclaimed Pacific Islands. Commander C. F. Oldham on HMS Egeria landed at each of the three atolls in June 1889 and officially raised the Union Flag, declaring the group a British protectorate. The British government annexed Tokelau to the colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands and transferred Tokelau to New Zealand administration in 1926, abolishing the islands' chiefdoms. By the Tokelau Act of 1948, sovereignty over Tokelau was transferred to New Zealand. Defence is also the responsibility of New Zealand. However, the Tokelauans are drafting a constitution and developing institutions and patterns of self-government as Tokelau moves towards free association with New Zealand, similarly to Niue and the Cook Islands. Villages are entitled to enact their own laws regulating their daily lives and New Zealand law only applies where it has been extended by specific enactment. Serious crime is rare and there are no prisons - offenders are publicly rebuked, fined or made to work. A rather unique action was taken during the last days of 2011. Tokelau, together with Samoa, has chosen to switch time zones by redrawing the international dateline at midnight on December 29, 2011. This means that Tokelau will skip the date December 30 altogether, and go straight into December 31. The main reasons are economical, because from now on, Tokelau will just be 1-3 hours ahead of Australia and New Zealand, making business with those countries easier. From being one of the last countries in the world to greet the new day (and New Year's!), it will be one of the first when moving to the other side of the dateline.
Tokelau includes three atolls in the South Pacific Ocean between longitudes 171° and 173° W and between latitudes 8° and 10° S, about midway between Hawaii and New Zealand. They lie about 500 kilometres north of Samoa. The atolls are Atafu, Nukunonu, both in a group of islands once called the Duke of Clarence Group, and Fakaofo, once Bowditch Island. Their combined land area is 10.8 km2. There are no ports or harbours. A fourth island that is culturally, historically, and geographically, but not politically, part of the Tokelau chain is Swains Island (Olohega), under United States control since about 1900 and administered as part of American Samoa since 1925.
Swains Island was claimed by the United States pursuant to the Guano Islands Act, as were the other three islands of Tokelau, which claims were ceded to Tokelau by treaty in 1979. In the draft constitution of Tokelau subject to the Tokelauan self-determination referendum in 2006, Olohega is claimed as part of Tokelau, a claim surrendered in the same 1979 treaty which established a boundary between American Samoa and Tokelau.
Tokelau's 3 atolls are listed below.
As Tokelau consists of three atoll, these are described shortly below. All of the attractions are within minutes of eachother.
Atafu is the smallest of Tokelau's three atolls. It is also the most traditional atoll, located in the north. Protestant fervour means there are rationed alcohol sales and there is also a greater reliance on old-style dugout canoes. Traditional houses are one of the nicest attractions to observe on Atafu and there are more here than on any other atoll because of its supply of building wood, which is called kanava.
Fakaofo is the most southern atoll of Tokelau. It dominated the other two atolls in the 18th century Tokelau Wars. Nowadays, Fakaofa still calls itself 'the Chiefly Island'. There is a good example of a traditional village hall. The hall also has a coral slab personifying the ancient Polynesian god Tui Tokelau. There are no less than 62 islets and of the three atolls has the highest population of roughly 600 inhabitants. For such a small place, the existence of three churches to cater to the atoll's Protestant and Catholic inhabitants, is remarkable as well.
The atoll of Nukunonu has 24 islets and is the largest of the three atolls that make up Tokelau. It also has the largest lagoon and is blessed with an abundance of pandanus trees for weaving. The other main feature on the atoll is the extremely pragmatic village hall which basically is a cargo shed!
Tokelau has a hot and humid tropical climate. Temperatures hoover around 30 °C throughout the year and never drop much lower than 23 °C or 24 °C at night. Temperatures are slightly higher during the wetter November to March period and slightly lower between April and October. This last period is the best season to visit as it rains less (but still significantly) and there is almost no chance of hurricanes, which can strik from December to March. Also, most ships leaving from Samoa and travelling between the atolls are full from November onwards and from January onwards crossings by boat can be very rough and are not recommended.
Tokelau has no airport, so your options of getting there are limited to sea transport only.
Samoa - Tokelau vv
Three cargo ships sail between Apia in Samoa and Tokelau. Bookings for the 20-hour (or more, this is to the nearest atoll, Fakaofo) trip can be made in Apia at the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office (685-20822, 71805; firstname.lastname@example.org; PO Box 865, Apia, 8:00am-5:00pm Monday to Friday). Sailings are usually fortnightly (2-3 times a month) but sometimes there are more sailings. Return deck/cabin fares are NZ$290/530 per adult; children half price. The MV Tokelau makes the trip to Tokelau every two or three weeks and in n addition, there are larger, passenger/cargo vessels that are hired to make the round trip every month or so. If you have a choice go for a hired vessel as they are more comfortable and have more passenger bunks than the one-cabin MV Tokelau.
Pacific Expeditions is one of the few options to get here on a trip, other than with your own yacht. They have 3 weeks trips starting in Samoa and visiting American Samoa, Kiribati en route to Tokelau.
Travelling between the 3 atolls is only possible by boat. The MV Tokelau or some other boats that travel two or three times a month between Apia on Samoa and all three atolls. Sailing time is three hours between Fakaofo and Nukunonu, and five hours between Nukunonu and Atafu.
Getting around is best done by small aluminium dinghy or the more-traditional kanava outrigger canoe which is popular on the atoll of Atafu.
Travelling around the atolls other than by boat is best done by foot, other ways are either not possible or not necessary, as distances are minimal.
No special requirements, except of course a valid passport.
See also Money Matters
The New Zealand currency is the New Zealand dollar (NZD). 1 dollar is divided into 100 cents. There are 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2 coins. Bills are issued in $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100.
Although there is actually a local Tokelauan currency, these are very hard to get in the regular circuit and can only be bought as souvenirs.
Tokelauan, a Polynesian language closely related to Samoan and Tuvaluan, is the native language, and most people can speak and understand English. The name Tokelau is a Polynesian word meaning 'northern wind'.
The Luana Liki Hotel in Nukunonu is the only public eating place which is in the only hotel. If you are staying at the Luana Liki, you will get three meals per day included in the price.
There is not a great deal of choice in accommodation Tokelau. There is one hotel, the Luana Liki Hotel and one resort, Falefa Resort on the largest island of Nukunonu. There is a guesthouse, Feliti Lopa on Atafu.
Samoan beer is available in shops and at the Luana Like Hotel, but sale is strictly rationed in Nukunonu. The legal drinking age is 18.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Tokelau. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Tokelau. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccinations, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
See also International Telephone Calls
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