The Pacific has some colourful leaders but few put new New Zealand Prime Ministers through quite the same initiation as Niue's Premier, Toke Talagi.

In English's case, Talagi was disgruntled that New Zealand brought in the food for a lunch to mark the opening of the newly refurbished Matavai Hotel - a project built with $7.5 million of New Zealand aid.

Talagi only briefly mentioned it in a speech to welcome English at Niue's tiny airport.

But prior to his arrival, Talagi had raised it at a public event, according to a Niuean-based blog - Uncle Sione's Niue Diary - which said Talagi described it as disrespectful.

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"He added Mr English might know a lot about sheep but lacked any knowledge of Niuean culture."

Bill English, Alfred Ngaro and Gerry Brownlee enjoy the shade in Niue. Photo / Claire Trevett
Bill English, Alfred Ngaro and Gerry Brownlee enjoy the shade in Niue. Photo / Claire Trevett

Talagi added that New Zealand was not the only country Niue looked to for aid - mentioning China and India.

The invocation of China is a repeated theme in Talagi's handling of New Zealand Prime Ministers - in 2009, former Prime Minister John Key also felt the sharp edge of Talagi's tongue when Talagi said if New Zealand did not release a $4 million pool of aid funding for Niue, he would go to China instead.

He added that if he was not re-elected, he would blame Key because it would be because Niueans felt he had not done enough.

Talagi was re-elected and in May was elected to a fourth term - something he was very quick to point out to English, noting he would be trying to achieve the same feat.

Talagi has also crossed swords with Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in the past.

He has since come to like Key and Murray McCully - saying yesterday that the relationship between Niue and New Zealand had improved significantly over the past few years.

He pointed to signs of revival in Niue - including almost a doubling in tourist numbers since 2009 to close to the target of 10,000 a year. He said there was even a slight growth in the island's tiny population of about 1600.

Talagi said he was hoping signs of growth in the economy would bring more of them home.

By the end of English's day in Niue, Talagi seemed to have got over his gripe.

He did deliver his traditional reminder that New Zealand was not the only country Niue got aid from, but he mentioned Australia and the EU rather than the C-word: China.

Asked how he was adjusting to English and new Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee, Talagi said he did not believe it would change the relationship much.

"I'm an easy person to get on with. Generally. It's only when people annoy me," he said.

English too referred to Talagi's sometimes bristly approach - noting he was very forthright and joking he had clearly been to the same school of diplomacy as Brownlee.

It possibly helped that English opened up the Matavai Resort extension and splashed a bit more cash about, including $5 million to help with the Manatua Cable, quipping it would mean many households in Niue would get broadband before English did himself.

NZ High Commissioner Ross Ardern, PM Bill English, Pacific Minister Alfred Ngaro and Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee in Niue. Photo / Claire Trevett
NZ High Commissioner Ross Ardern, PM Bill English, Pacific Minister Alfred Ngaro and Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee in Niue. Photo / Claire Trevett

English defended spending $18 million in aid funding to upgrade the resort, saying although it was making a profit operationally, Niue did not have the capital to fund improvements.

"We regard it as a long-term investment, that is, it's going to generate jobs and income and is probably more effective than ongoing aid for one-off projects or the [Niue] Government budget."

Although Talagi has suffered some ill health, he decided to stand again saying he had 'unfinished business' in his wish to further boost tourism and push for Niue to be a member of the UN - a move New Zealand has blocked.

However, after meeting English, Talagi said he hoped Niue would become independent at some points, but did not expect it to happen soon - partly because the Niueans cherished the New Zealand citizenship.

Becoming a member of the UN was also not likely to be swift - he said English gave him a fair hearing but he would continue to talk to New Zealand about the process.

"We are looking at the legal requirement, the implications of that."

English and his delegation spent the day hurtling around the island looking at business ventures, solar energy projects and traditional Niuean waka, which English was told were the forebears of the America's Cup boats, due to their double hull designs.