Tokelau is a dependent territory of New Zealand consisting of three atolls 500 km north of Samoa (Tokelau means "north"). The central atoll, Nukunonu, is 92 km southeast of Atafu and 64 km northwest of Fakaofo. Each atoll consists of a ribbon of coral motus (islands), 90 meters to six km long and up to 200 meters wide, enclosing a broad lagoon. At no point does the land rise more than five meters above the sea, which makes the territory vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change. Together the three atolls total only 12.2 square km of dry land, but they also include 165 square km of enclosed lagoons. About 1,500 people live on the atolls and another 5,000 Tokelauans live "beyond the reef" in New Zealand (mainly around Wellington), the result of a migration that began in 1963.
There's no airport so the only way to go is on the MV Tokelau run by the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office in Samoa. This ship leaves Apia for the three atolls about twice a month although the exact date isn't known until a few days prior to sailing. It takes just under two days to reach the first island and 7-9 days to complete the roundtrip. This is not a trip for the squeamish or fainthearted. On the MV Tokelau most passengers travel deck, and every available space on deck will be packed with the Tokelauans and their belongings. Pray that you travel with the wind because against the wind it's extremely rough and the smell of diesel pervades the air. Tokelauans and officials get first priority on these trips, and tourists are only taken if there happens to be space left over. Advance reservations are not accepted. Check with the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office when you reach Samoa - you may be lucky.
On Nukunonu, Mr. Luhiano Perez, headmaster of the local school, and his wife Juliana operate the Luanaliki Hotel (tel./fax 690-4116), a solid, lilac-colored concrete building that contains nine double rooms. They charge NZ$50 pp a night including all meals. On Fakaofo and Atafu you'll have to stay with a local family, and this must be arranged in advance through the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office. They'll forward your request to the respective island council and you'll be asked to pay a fixed amount per day for food and accommodations.
Life is relaxed in the Tokelau Islands. There are no large stores, hotels, restaurants, or bars, just plenty of coconuts, sand, and sun, and a happy, friendly people. They'll take you fishing or to family lands on the motus to collect coconuts. Women can learn how to cook or weave in the Tokelau way. Everyone will have endless time to talk, and the lagoon waters away from the villages are great for swimming and snorkeling. Easygoing visitors will love Tokelau, but those on a tight schedule or who crave privacy, comfort, or constant activity will be anxious to leave.
Take cash dollars as there are no banks in the Tokelau Islands. New Zealand currency is used here, but Samoan, American, and Australian banknotes can be exchanged if need be. Any personal medications, sunscreen, snorkeling gear, and ample reading material are other things to take. Suggested gifts for the family which accommodates you include rubber thongs, housewares, tools, fishing gear (stainless steel fishhooks, fishing line, swivels, sinkers, lures, mask and snorkel, and spear-gun rubbers), and perhaps a rugby ball or volleyball. The women will appreciate perfumes, deodorants, cosmetics, printed cloth, and dyes. Kitchen knives and enamel mugs are always welcome. Pictures of your own family back home will be viewed with interest.
The Tokelau chapter from Moon Handbooks South Pacific is now available online as the Tokelau Travel Guide. It has a map of Tokelau, plus individual island maps of Atafu, Fakaofo, and Nukunonu. The site is a good place to read up on the history and culture of Tokelau, while collecting useful travel information.