A large cloud bank moves in on Aitutaki Atoll in the Southern Cook Islands. Image courtesy of NASA.
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Polynesians from Tahiti were probably the first people to settle Rarotonga around A.D. 900. Over time, Samoans and Tongans also settled in Rarotonga, and Rarotongans voyaged to the northern Cook Islands, settling Manihiki and Rakahanga. Pukapuka and Penrhyn in the northern Cook Islands were settled directly from Samoa. Prior to European contact, there was considerable travel and trade between inhabitants of the different islands and atolls but they were not united in a single entity. Spanish navigators were the first Europeans to spot the northern Cook Islands in 1595 followed by the first landing in 1606. The Cook Islands remained free of further European contact until the 1760s, and in 1773, British explorer James COOK saw Manuae in the southern Cook Islands. The islands were named after COOK in the 1820s by Russian mapmakers. English missionary activity during the 1820s and 1830s banned singing and dancing and converted most of the population.

Fearing France would militarily occupy the islands like it did in Tahiti, Rarotongans asked the UK for protectorate status in the 1840s and 1860s, which the UK ignored. In 1888, Queen MAKEA TAKAU of Rarotonga formally petitioned for protectorate status, which the UK reluctantly agreed to. In 1901, the UK placed Rarotonga and the rest of the islands in the New Zealand Colony and in 1915, the Cook Islands Act organized the Cook Islands into one political entity. It remained a protectorate until 1965, when New Zealand granted the Cook Islands self-government status. The Cook Islands has a great deal of local autonomy and is an independent member of international organizations, but it is in free association with New Zealand, which is responsible for defense and foreign affairs. Economic opportunities in the Cook Islands are sparse, and more Cook Islanders live in New Zealand than in the Cook Islands.

In a referendum in 1994, voters chose to keep the name Cook Islands rather than changing to a Maori name for the islands. The issue was revived in 2019, but after being poorly received by the diaspora in New Zealand, the government decided to retain the name Cook Islands but to provide a Maori name alongside it. The Maori name has not yet been determined.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.



Oceania, group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand

Geographic coordinates

21 14 S, 159 46 W


total: 236 sq km

land: 236 sq km

water: 0 sq km

country comparison to the world: 214

Area - comparative

1.3 times the size of Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km


120 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin


tropical oceanic; moderated by trade winds; a dry season from April to November and a more humid season from December to March


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


highest point: Te Manga 652 m

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

Natural resources

coconuts (copra)

Land use

agricultural land: 8.4% (2018 est.)

arable land: 4.2% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 4.2% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 0% (2018 est.)

forest: 64.6% (2018 est.)

other: 27% (2018 est.)

Population distribution

most of the population is found on the island of Rarotonga

Natural hazards

tropical cyclones (November to March)

Geography - note

the northern Cook Islands are seven low-lying, sparsely populated, coral atolls; the southern Cook Islands, where most of the population lives, consist of eight elevated, fertile, volcanic isles, including the largest, Rarotonga, at 67 sq km

People and Society


8,327 (July 2021 est.)

note: the Cook Islands' Ministry of Finance & Economic Management estimated the resident population to have been 11,700 in September 2016

country comparison to the world: 223


noun: Cook Islander(s)

adjective: Cook Islander

Ethnic groups

Cook Island Maori (Polynesian) 81.3%, part Cook Island Maori 6.7%, other 11.9% (2011 est.)


English (official) 86.4%, Cook Islands Maori (Rarotongan) (official) 76.2%, other 8.3% (2011 est.)

note: shares sum to more than 100% because some respondents gave more than one answer on the census


Protestant 62.8% (Cook Islands Christian Church 49.1%, Seventh Day Adventist 7.9%, Assemblies of God 3.7%, Apostolic Church 2.1%), Roman Catholic 17%, Church of Jesus Christ 4.4%, other 8%, none 5.6%, no response 2.2% (2011 est.)

Age structure

0-14 years: 19.93% (male 901/female 808)

15-24 years: 14.89% (male 684/female 593)

25-54 years: 37.66% (male 1,595/female 1,634)

55-64 years: 14.15% (male 674/female 539)

65 years and over: 13.37% (male 555/female 591) (2020 est.)

This is the population pyramid for Cook Islands. A population pyramid illustrates the age and sex structure of a country's population and may provide insights about political and social stability, as well as economic development. The population is distributed along the horizontal axis, with males shown on the left and females on the right. The male and female populations are broken down into 5-year age groups represented as horizontal bars along the vertical axis, with the youngest age groups at the bottom and the oldest at the top. The shape of the population pyramid gradually evolves over time based on fertility, mortality, and international migration trends. <br/><br/>For additional information, please see the entry for Population pyramid on the Definitions and Notes page.

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: NA

youth dependency ratio: NA

elderly dependency ratio: NA

potential support ratio: NA

Median age

total: 38.3 years

male: 37.8 years

female: 38.7 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 64

Birth rate

12.85 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 142

Death rate

8.89 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 59

Net migration rate

-28.58 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 230

Population distribution

most of the population is found on the island of Rarotonga


urban population: 75.7% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: 0.52% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.12 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 1.15 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 0.98 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 1.25 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.94 male(s)/female

total population: 1.06 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: 16.33 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 20.54 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 11.91 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 97

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 76.89 years

male: 74.05 years

female: 79.88 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 95

Drinking water source

improved: total: 100% of population

unimproved: total: 0% of population (2017 est.)

Physicians density

1.41 physicians/1,000 population (2014)

Sanitation facility access

improved: total: 97.6% of population

unimproved: total: 2.4% of population (2017 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: high (2020)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea

vectorborne diseases: malaria

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 15 years

male: 15 years

female: 14 years (2012)


Environment - current issues

limited land presents solid and liquid waste disposal problems; soil destruction and deforestation; environmental degradation due to indiscriminant use of pesticides; improper disposal of pollutants; overfishing and destructive fishing practices; over dredging of lagoons and coral rubble beds; unregulated building

Environment - international agreements

party to: Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change-Paris Agreement, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution

signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Air pollutants

particulate matter emissions: 12.03 micrograms per cubic meter (2016 est.)


tropical oceanic; moderated by trade winds; a dry season from April to November and a more humid season from December to March

Land use

agricultural land: 8.4% (2018 est.)

arable land: 4.2% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 4.2% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 0% (2018 est.)

forest: 64.6% (2018 est.)

other: 27% (2018 est.)


urban population: 75.7% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: 0.52% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: high (2020)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea

vectorborne diseases: malaria

Total renewable water resources

0 cubic meters (2017 est.)


Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Cook Islands

former: Hervey Islands

etymology: named after Captain James COOK, the British explorer who visited the islands in 1773 and 1777

Government type

parliamentary democracy

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


name: Avarua

geographic coordinates: 21 12 S, 159 46 W

time difference: UTC-10 (5 hours behind Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: translates as "two harbors" in Maori


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

National holiday

Constitution Day, the first Monday in August (1965)


history: 4 August 1965 (Cook Islands Constitution Act 1964)

amendments: proposed by Parliament; passage requires at least two-thirds majority vote by the Parliament membership in each of several readings and assent of the chief of state’s representative; passage of amendments relating to the chief of state also requires two-thirds majority approval in a referendum; amended many times, last in 2004

Legal system

common law similar to New Zealand common law

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration (New Zealand normally retains responsibility for external affairs); accepts ICCt jurisdiction


18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); represented by Sir Tom J. MARSTERS (since 9 August 2013); New Zealand Acting High Commissioner Ms Rachel BENNETT (since 9 December 2019)

head of government: Prime Minister Mark BROWN (since 1 October 2020)

cabinet: Cabinet chosen by the prime minister

elections/appointments: the monarchy is hereditary; UK representative appointed by the monarch; New Zealand high commissioner appointed by the New Zealand Government; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or majority coalition usually becomes prime minister

Legislative branch

description: unicameral Parliament, formerly the Legislative Assembly (24 seats; members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote to serve 4-year terms); note - the House of Ariki, a 24-member parliamentary body of traditional leaders appointed by the Queen's representative serves as a consultative body to the Parliament

elections: last held on 14 June 2018 (next to be held by 2022)

election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Demo 11, CIP 10, One Cook Islands Movement 1, independent 2; composition - men 15, women 9, percent of women 37.5%

Judicial branch

highest courts: Court of Appeal (consists of the chief justice and 3 judges of the High Court); High Court (consists of the chief justice and at least 4 judges and organized into civil, criminal, and land divisions); note - appeals beyond the Cook Islands Court of Appeal are heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (in London)

judge selection and term of office: High Court chief justice appointed by the Queen's Representative on the advice of the Executive Council tendered by the prime minister; other judges appointed by the Queen's Representative, on the advice of the Executive Council tendered by the chief justice, High Court chief justice, and the minister of justice; chief justice and judges appointed for 3-year renewable terms

subordinate courts: justices of the peace

Political parties and leaders

Cook Islands Party or CIP [Henry PUNA]
Democratic Party or Demo [Tina BROWNE]
One Cook Islands Movement [Teina BISHOP]

International organization participation


Diplomatic representation in the US

none (self-governing in free association with New Zealand)

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: none (self-governing in free association with New Zealand)

Flag description

blue with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant and a large circle of 15 white five-pointed stars (one for every island) centered in the outer half of the flag

National symbol(s)

a circle of 15, five-pointed, white stars on a blue field, Tiare maori (Gardenia taitensis) flower; national colors: green, white

National anthem

name: "Te Atua Mou E" (To God Almighty)

lyrics/music: Tepaeru Te RITO/Thomas DAVIS

note: adopted 1982; as prime minister, Sir Thomas DAVIS composed the anthem; his wife, a tribal chief, wrote the lyrics


Economic 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, employing more than one-quarter of the working population, provides the economic base with major exports of copra and citrus fruit. Black pearls are the Cook Islands' leading export. 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 became overextended, 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. The government is targeting fisheries and seabed mining as sectors for future economic growth.

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$299.9 million (2016 est.)

$183.2 million (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 216

Real GDP per capita

$16,700 (2016 est.)

$9,100 (2005 est.)

country comparison to the world: 101

GDP (official exchange rate)

$299.9 million (2016 est.)

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 5.1% (2010 est.)

industry: 12.7% (2010 est.)

services: 82.1% (2010 est.)

Agricultural products

vegetables, coconuts, roots/tubers nes, cassava, papayas, tomatoes, pork, fruit, sweet potatoes, mangoes/guavas


fishing, fruit processing, tourism, clothing, handicrafts

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 29%

industry: 15%

services: 56% (1995)


revenues: 86.9 million (2010)

expenditures: 77.9 million (2010)

Fiscal year

1 April - 31 March


$3.125 million (2011 est.)

$5.163 million (2010 est.)

country comparison to the world: 223

Exports - partners

Japan 37%, Thailand 21%, France 17% (2019)

Exports - commodities

fish products, recreational boats, precious metal scraps, fruit juice, chemical analysis instruments (2019)


$109.3 million (2011 est.)

$90.62 million (2010 est.)

country comparison to the world: 217

Imports - partners

New Zealand 41%, China 21%, Italy 12%, Fiji 10% (2019)

Imports - commodities

ships, refined petroleum, recreational boats, cars, flavored water (2019)

Exchange rates

NZ dollars (NZD) per US dollar -

1.416 (2017 est.)

1.4341 (2016 est.)

1.4341 (2015 est.)

1.441 (2014 est.)

1.4279 (2013 est.)



Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 6,576 (2017)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 37.56 (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 201

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 14,539 (2017)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 83.05 (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 214

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: demand for mobile broadband is increasing due to mobile services being the primary and most wide-spread source for Internet access across the region; Telecom Cook Islands offers international direct dialing, Internet, email, and fax; individual islands are connected by a combination of satellite earth stations, microwave systems, and VHF and HF radiotelephone (2020)

domestic: service is provided by small exchanges connected to subscribers by open-wire, cable, and fiber-optic cable; 38 per 100 fixed-line, 83 per 100 mobile-cellular (2019)

international: country code - 682; the Manatua submarine cable to surrounding islands of Niue, Samoa, French Polynesia and other Cook Islands, the topography of the South Pacific region has made Internet connectivity a serious issue for many of the remote islands; submarine fiber-optic networks are expensive to build and maintain; satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Pacific Ocean) (2019)

note: the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on production and supply chains globally; since 2020, some aspects of the telecom sector have experienced downturn, particularly in mobile device production; many network operators delayed upgrades to infrastructure; progress towards 5G implementation was postponed or slowed in some countries; consumer spending on telecom services and devices was affected by large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes; the crucial nature of telecom services as a tool for work and school from home became evident, and received some support from governments

Broadcast media

1 privately owned TV station broadcasts from Rarotonga providing a mix of local news and overseas-sourced programs (2019)

Internet users

total: 9,487 (2021 est.)

percent of population: 54% (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 217

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 2,700 (2013)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 15.14 (2013)

country comparison to the world: 190


National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 1 (2020)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 6

Airports - with paved runways

total: 1

1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2019)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 10

1,524 to 2,437 m: 2

914 to 1,523 m: 7

under 914 m: 1 (2013)


total: 295 km (2018)

paved: 207 km (2018)

unpaved: 88 km (2018)

country comparison to the world: 202

Merchant marine

total: 194

by type: bulk carrier 19, container ship 1, general cargo 57, oil tanker 54, other 63 (2021)

country comparison to the world: 69

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Avatiu

Military and Security

Military and security forces

no regular military forces; Cook Islands Police Service

Military - note

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

Transnational Issues