Anybody Home? Pacific Island of Niue Hit by Exodus

Tourism Director Vanessa Marsh says Niue attracts diverse groups from wedding parties to ham radio enthusiasts, who find the isolation reduces signal interference. Niue's clear waters attract divers and sport fishermen.

Connell remains skeptical about the power of tourism to reverse Niue's population loss. He says the island's elevated, rocky coastline means it lacks the sandy beaches many holidaymakers seek. He says the tourists he met there tended to be people sailing the world, hardy backpackers or those trying to tick off 150 countries from their "bucket list."

Mark Blumsky, a former New Zealand businessman and politician who runs several tourism-related enterprises, is more optimistic. He moved to the island permanently after marrying a woman he met during a diplomatic posting there.

He says the lifestyle is remarkable. Take the jailhouse, located on one side of the golf course. The last inmate, in trouble for arson, spent his time tending the golf greens and improving his handicap before being released a year or two back, Blumsky says.

He says there are stunning coastal walks, opportunities to see humpback whales and plenty of swimming holes.

It would be unusual, but not unprecedented, for an island's population to simply pack up and leave. Connell says one of the more famous cases was St. Kilda, off the west coast of Scotland, where in 1930 the last 36 islanders requested evacuation to the Scottish mainland.

He notes there are examples of places that have survived despite predictions they would not, including the Pitcairn Islands, home to about 50 people.

"It's far too early to write off Niue," Connell says. "But it has to be at risk."

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Follow Nick Perry on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nickgbperry

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