Maria Mitimeti, crowned Miss Niue, performs an impromptu dance for passengers at the airport.
Maria Mitimeti, crowned Miss Niue, performs an impromptu dance for passengers at the airport. Jim Eagles

Judging beauty in Polynesia

I'VE had a bit to do with beauty queens over the years.

I was once the Irish delegate to a Miss Europe Contest in Athens where I joined a judging lineup that included a French art dealer who knew Pablo Picasso and a Finnish businessman who had met Adolf Hitler.

I've also judged a Miss Horeke contest won by a young man - we thought he had the most style - who then went on to win the Horeke Iron Man competition which involved swimming the Hokianga Harbour, running to the top of a tall hill and chopping through a log.

But it was still a special treat when my wife and I took a break this winter and it ended up revolving around Miss Niue.

It began when we flew to the island on the same Air New Zealand flight as the charming Miss Niue Aotearoa.

Then we were given tickets to the Miss Niue Pageant, held in the air terminal, which turned out to be a massive affair involving about a third of the population. In fact so many turned up that the master of ceremonies opened by telling the audience not to complain about the lack of seating because "we've hired every seat available on the island and there just aren't any more".

Our favourite, naturally, was the entrant from Aotearoa. But because we hadn't been in Niue long enough to understand the concept of island time - foolishly we turned up at the time on the tickets and it didn't start until over an hour later - we left before the finish.

The next day, while having a tasty toasted panini at Crazy Uga Cafe, I asked the young woman behind the counter if she knew who had won. "Oh," she said, "it was Miss Aotearoa. She's just there." Sure enough, our fellow traveller, Maria Mitimeti, was sitting about 2m away having a coffee. Naturally I offered congratulations and had my photo taken with her.

Niue being a fairly small place we bumped into each other several more times over the following week. And, when we assembled at the airport to depart, there she was again, this time wearing her royal red dress and shell crown.

In the event, the Air NZ flight was a couple of hours late - apparently because a liferaft had come loose - so the group of local musicians who welcome visitors to the airport did their best to assuage any grumpiness by providing a couple of hours of entertainment. And Miss Niue quickly joined in.

When the plane finally arrived the newcomers were greeted and we were farewelled not only by Niuean songs but by the graceful sight of the most beautiful woman on the island performing a wonderfully sensuous dance ... then boarding the plane herself.

Judging by the clicking of cameras and the whirring of videos, several of the passengers must have used up all their memory cards right at the start of their visit. Where else in the world?

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