June 4, 2012 - Queen's Birthday in Niue

Wow! I thought to myself. I wonder where the heck Niue is. I've never heard of it!

I was picturing a nice little island nation in the South Pacific with a beautiful brown islander queen who was born on June 4, some year in the past.

Well...yes and no. Niue is an island, and it is in the South Pacific. It's sorta / kinda a nation—it is self-governing—but it is in "free association" with New Zealand and lacks “full sovereignty.”

Niue is the teensy speck inside the blue square.

And its queen is no other than the pale-skinned royal who is also queen of Britain, Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, among other nations: Queen Elizabeth II.

But—wait a minute!—Elizabeth II's birthday is April 21!

For some reason, the countries of the Commonwealth all celebrate her birthday on different dates. New Zealand celebrates on the first Monday in June, and other countries celebrate it on other dates in May, June, September, or October. Niue, being associated with New Zealand, celebrates the queen's birthday on the same date.

Apparently, the idea of having an official birthday that is different than the actual anniversary of one's birth started with Elizabeth II's great-grandfather, Edward VII. He didn't like to have his birthday in chilly November, so he decreed that it would be celebrated in a warmer, sunnier month. Elizabeth II has no such excuse, in my mind—late April is usually a lovely time of the year!—but tradition is tradition, and she has various official birthdays as well as the sort of birthday we all have.

What makes Niue special?

As of the year 2003, Niue became the first “WiFi nation.” Free wireless Internet access is provided all over the country!

Explorer James Cook called Niue “Savage Island” because the inhabitants looked bloody, like they ate humans—but it turned out that the red substance on their teeth was a kind of red banana. Still, for 200 years or so, the island was stuck with “Savage Island.” Finally the original name, Niue, began to be used again. This name means “behold the coconut”!

Niue is one of the world's largest coral islands. There are a lot of limestone caves close to the coast, and the unusual soil (made from extremely weathered coral) has higher-than-normal levels of mercury and natural radioactivity. However, apparently these levels are still safe for plants and animals.

Also on this date:

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