Photos of Cook Islands

Introduction

Background

The Cook Islands, named after Captain James Cook who landed in 1773, became a British protectorate in 1888 and was later annexed by proclamation in 1900. The Cook Islands was first included within the boundaries of New Zealand in 1901, and in 1965, residents chose self-government in free association with New Zealand. The Cook Islands’ economy relies on tourism, fisheries, and foreign aid. More recently a growing offshore financial sector exposed the country to vulnerabilities which the government has addressed with legislation and regulations for the oversight of all banks and financial institutions, and with enforcement measures. The Cook Islands continues to face challenges with the emigration of skilled workers, government deficits, inadequate infrastructure, and natural resource depletion. The Cook Islands is expected to graduate to the high-income threshold set by the World Bank, which will limit the country’s access to Official Development Assistance under OECD guidelines.

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

Geography

Location

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

Geographic coordinates

21 14 S, 159 46 W

Area

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

Coastline

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

Climate

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

Terrain

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

Elevation

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

highest point: Te Manga 652 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)

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: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection

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

Population

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

Nationality

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.)

Languages

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

Religions

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%, Mormon 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.)

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

Urbanization

urban population: 75.5% of total population (2020)

rate of urbanization: 0.37% annual rate of change (2015-20 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)

Government

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

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

parliamentary democracy

Capital

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

Independence

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)

Constitution

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

Suffrage

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

ACP, ADB, AOSIS, FAO, ICAO, ICCt, ICRM, IFAD, IFRCS, IMO, IMSO, IOC, ITUC (NGOs), OPCW, PIF, Sparteca, SPC, UNESCO, UPU, WHO, WMO

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

Economy

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: 217

GDP (official exchange rate)

$299.9 million (2016 est.)

Real GDP per capita

$16,700 (2016 est.)

$9,100 (2005 est.)

country comparison to the world: 103

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

Industries

fishing, fruit processing, tourism, clothing, handicrafts

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 29%

industry: 15%

services: 56% (1995)

Budget

revenues: 86.9 million (2010)

expenditures: 77.9 million (2010)

Fiscal year

1 April - 31 March

Exports

$3.125 million (2011 est.)

$5.163 million (2010 est.)

country comparison to the world: 219

Exports - commodities

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

Imports

$109.3 million (2011 est.)

$90.62 million (2010 est.)

country comparison to the world: 214

Imports - commodities

foodstuffs, textiles, fuels, timber, capital goods

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.)

Energy

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 3,305

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 37.56 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 210

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 7,308

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 83.05 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 216

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 outbreak is negatively impacting telecommunications production and supply chains globally; consumer spending on telecom devices and services has also slowed due to the pandemic's effect on economies worldwide; overall progress towards improvements in all facets of the telecom industry - mobile, fixed-line, broadband, submarine cable and satellite - has moderated

Broadcast media

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

Internet users

total: 4,881

percent of population: 54% (July 2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 217

Transportation

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 (2019)

1,524 to 2,437 m: 1

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 10 (2013)

1,524 to 2,437 m: 2 (2013)

914 to 1,523 m: 7 (2013)

under 914 m: 1 (2013)

Roadways

total: 295 km (2018)

paved: 207 km (2018)

unpaved: 88 km (2018)

country comparison to the world: 202

Merchant marine

total: 204

by type: bulk carrier 22, container ship 1, general cargo 80, oil tanker 34, other 67 (2020)

country comparison to the world: 67

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Avatiu

Military and Security

Military and security forces

no regular military forces; Cook Islands Police Service. (2018)

Military - note

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

Transnational Issues