Cook Islands

Flag of Cook Islands

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Named after Captain Cook, who sighted them in 1770, the islands became a British protectorate in 1888. By 1900, administrative control was transferred to New Zealand; in 1965 residents chose self-government in free association with New Zealand. The emigration of skilled workers to New Zealand and government deficits are continuing problems.


Oceania, group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, about one-half of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand

Geographic coordinates:

21 14 S, 159 46 W

Map references:



total: 240 sq km
water: 0 sq km
land: 240 sq km


tropical; moderated by trade winds


low coral atolls in north; volcanic, hilly islands in south

Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: Te Manga 652 m

Land use:

arable land: 17.39%
permanent crops: 13.04%
other: 69.57% (2001)

Irrigated land:

NA sq km

Natural hazards:

typhoons (November to March)

Geography - note:

the northern Cook Islands are seven low-lying, sparsely populated, coral atolls; the southern Cook Islands consist of eight elevated, fertile, volcanic isles where most of the populace lives


21,200 (July 2004 est.)

Ethnic groups:

Polynesian (full blood) 81.3%, Polynesian and European 7.7%, Polynesian and non-European 7.7%, European 2.4%, other 0.9%


Christian (majority of populace are members of the Cook Islands Christian Church)


English (official), Maori


definition: NA
total population: 95%
male: NA
female: NA

Dependency status:

self-governing in free association with New Zealand; Cook Islands is fully responsible for internal affairs; New Zealand retains responsibility for external affairs and defense, in consultation with the Cook Islands

Government type:

self-governing parliamentary democracy




none (became self-governing in free association with New Zealand on 4 August 1965 and has the right at any time to move to full independence by unilateral action)

National holiday:

Constitution Day, first Monday in August (1965)

Legal system:

based on New Zealand law and English common law

Economy - overview:

Like many other South Pacific island nations, the Cook Islands' economic development is hindered by the isolation of the country from foreign markets, the limited size of domestic markets, lack of natural resources, periodic devastation from natural disasters, and inadequate infrastructure. Agriculture provides the economic base with major exports made up of copra and citrus fruit. Manufacturing activities are limited to fruit processing, clothing, and handicrafts. Trade deficits are offset by remittances from emigrants and by foreign aid, overwhelmingly from New Zealand. In the 1980s and 1990s, the country lived beyond its means, maintaining a bloated public service and accumulating a large foreign debt. Subsequent reforms, including the sale of state assets, the strengthening of economic management, the encouragement of tourism, and a debt restructuring agreement, have rekindled investment and growth.

Inflation rate (consumer prices):

3.2% (2000 est.)

Labor force:

8,000 (1996)

Labor force - by occupation:

agriculture 29%, industry 15%, services 56%
note: shortage of skilled labor (1995)

Unemployment rate:

13% (1996)

Agriculture - products:

copra, citrus, pineapples, tomatoes, beans, pawpaws, bananas, yams, taro, coffee; pigs, poultry


fruit processing, tourism, fishing, clothing, handicrafts

Exports - commodities:

copra, papayas, fresh and canned citrus fruit, coffee; fish; pearls and pearl shells; clothing

Exports - partners:

Australia 34%, Japan 27%, New Zealand 25%, US 8% (2000)

Imports - commodities:

foodstuffs, textiles, fuels, timber, capital goods

Imports - partners:

New Zealand 61%, Fiji 19%, US 9%, Australia 6%, Japan 2% (2000)


New Zealand dollar (NZD)

Telephones - main lines in use:

6,200 (2002)

Telephones - mobile cellular:

1,500 (2002)


total: 320 km
paved: 33 km
unpaved: 287 km (2000)

Ports and harbors:

Avarua, Avatiu

Merchant marine:

total: 2 ships (1,000 GRT or over) 4,074 GRT/7,520 DWT
foreign-owned: Australia 1, United Kingdom 1 (2003 est.)
by type: cargo 1, petroleum tanker 1


9 (2003 est.)

Airports - with paved runways:

total: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2003 est.)

Airports - with unpaved runways:

total: 8
1,524 to 2,437 m: 3
914 to 1,523 m: 4
under 914 m: 1 (2003 est.)

Military - note:

defense is the responsibility of New Zealand, in consultation with the Cook Islands and at its request