News 20 Jul 2018
As MFAT’s recently appointed Auckland-based Administrator for Tokelau, Ross Ardern admits, the remote group of islands are a lot quieter than they used to be. But he adds the reason is positive.
“A few years ago, the sound you’d always hear came from the generators operating day and night,” he says.
“But in recent years there has been a lot of activity to bring renewable energy to the Tokelau atolls (Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo) and the quietness is remarkable. It’s the way of the future and the need to increase energy is expected to increase by another 50%, which is not unusual in the renewable energy market.”
Tokelau has also benefitted from the services provided by the Mataliki ferry, which began services in February 2016. It’s capable of transporting up to 60 international passengers at a time along with a small amount of cargo for between the atolls.
Tokelau’s resident population, which is approximately 1400 who live on the atolls, is a fraction of the Tokelau population living in New Zealand, which is around 7500.
Despite the Mataliki’s relative newness and a slight faster cruising speed of 11.5 knots, the length of the journey between Tokelau and Samoa will not significantly reduce.
“The one-way journey from Apia to the nearest atoll, and four to six hours between the three villages in Tokelau won’t change a lot. It will test your stamina.”
As arduous as the journey between Tokelau and Samoa can feel, Ross says the locals ensure passengers receive a warm welcome.
“It’s a long journey (approximately 24 hours) and I’m always grateful to see the atolls slowly emerge on the horizon,” says Ross, whose daughter Jacinda is Prime Minister of New Zealand following the September 2017 New Zealand General Election.
“But the people are so gracious and appreciative of their relationship with New Zealand, they regard their relationship as extremely important.”
Gaining independence from New Zealand had been on Tokelau’s agenda, with a self-determination referendum voting in February 2006 to narrowly reject self-determination and remain part of New Zealand. A second vote the following year retained the status quo.
Late last year the NZ Government scaled up the position of Administrator for Tokelau to appoint someone whose sole focus will be on the role. In December 2017 the NZ Government announced a $NZD22.3 million investment to connect Tokelau to undersea fibre-optic cables, including tele-medicine and distance learning, with improved health and education services to assist Tokelau in overcoming its remoteness and lack of air services.