Niue's remoteness, as well as cultural and linguistic differences between its Polynesian inhabitants and those of the rest of the Cook Islands, have caused it to be separately administered. The population of the island continues to drop (from a peak of 5,200 in 1966 to 2,100 in 2000) with substantial emigration to New Zealand.
Niue was first settled by Polynesian sailors from Tonga, Samoa, and the Cook Islands. Captain James Cook was the first European to sight the island, but he was unable to land there due to fierce opposition by the local population. In response, he named Niue the Savage Island.
Christian missionaries from the London Missionary Society converted most of the population circa 1846. In 1900 the island became a British protectorate, and the following year it was annexed by New Zealand. Niue gained independence in 1974 in free association with New Zealand, which handles the island's military and foreign affairs.
In January of 2004, Niue was struck by a devastating cyclone (Cyclone Heta) which left 200 of the islands' 1600 inhabitants homeless. As a number of local residents chose afterwards not to rebuild, New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff speculated that Niue's status as a self-governing nation in free association with New Zealand mught come into question if too many residents departed the island to maintain basic services. Soon afterwards, Niue Premier Young Vivian categorically rejected the possibility of altering the existing relationship with New Zealand.