Photos of Cook Islands



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 political 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. In September 2023, the US recognized the Cook Islands as a sovereign and independent state. 

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

comparison ranking: total 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


7,939 (2023 est.)

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

comparison ranking: 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: 18.43% (male 766/female 697)

15-64 years: 66.23% (male 2,713/female 2,545)

65 years and over: 15.34% (2023 est.) (male 596/female 622)

2023 population pyramid:
2023 population pyramid

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 53.8

youth dependency ratio: 36.4

elderly dependency ratio: 17.4

potential support ratio: 5.8 (2021)

Median age

total: 38.3 years (2020)

male: 37.8 years

female: 38.7 years

comparison ranking: total 64

Population growth rate

-2.31% (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 236

Birth rate

12.34 births/1,000 population (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 145

Death rate

9.2 deaths/1,000 population (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 54

Net migration rate

-26.2 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 230

Population distribution

most of the population is found on the island of Rarotonga


urban population: 76.2% of total population (2023)

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

total population growth rate v. urban population growth rate, 2000-2030

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.1 male(s)/female

15-64 years: 1.07 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.96 male(s)/female

total population: 1.05 male(s)/female (2023 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: 15.53 deaths/1,000 live births (2023 est.)

male: 19.52 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 11.34 deaths/1,000 live births

comparison ranking: total 93

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 77.39 years (2023 est.)

male: 74.58 years

female: 80.34 years

comparison ranking: total population 94

Total fertility rate

2.04 children born/woman (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 99

Drinking water source

improved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: 100% of population

unimproved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: 0% of population (2020 est.)

Current health expenditure

3.2% of GDP (2020)

Physicians density

1.41 physicians/1,000 population (2014)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: 99.1% of population

unimproved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: 0.9% of population (2020 est.)

Obesity - adult prevalence rate

55.9% (2016)

comparison ranking: 2

Alcohol consumption per capita

total: 12.97 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

beer: 3.62 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

wine: 2.28 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

spirits: 7.07 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

other alcohols: 0 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: total 1

Tobacco use

total: 24% (2020 est.)

male: 27.7% (2020 est.)

female: 20.3% (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: total 60

Education expenditures

4.6% of GDP (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: 92


total population: NA

male: NA

female: NA

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 indiscriminate 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


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: 76.2% of total population (2023)

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

total population growth rate v. urban population growth rate, 2000-2030

Air pollutants

particulate matter emissions: 7.8 micrograms per cubic meter (2019 est.)

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


4 August 1965 (Cook Islands became self-governing state in free association with New Zealand)

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: King CHARLES III (since 8 September 2022); represented by Sir Tom J. MARSTERS (since 9 August 2013); New Zealand High Commissioner Ms Tui DEWES (since October 2020)

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 King's representative serves as a consultative body to the Parliament

elections: last held on 1 August 2022 (next to be held by 2026)

election results: percent of vote by party - CIP 44%, Demo 26.9%, Cook Islands United Party 26.9%, OCI 2.7%, other 0.2% independent 7.3%; seats by party - CIP 12, Demo 5, Cook Islands United Party 3, OCI 1, independent 3; composition as of September 2023 - men 18, women 6, percent of women 25%

Judicial branch

highest court(s): 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 [Mark BROWN]
Cook Islands United Party [Teariki HEATHER]
Democratic Party or Demo [Tina BROWNE]
One Cook Islands Movement or OCI [George TURIA]

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)

note: on 25 September 2023, the US officially established diplomatic relations with Cook Islands

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

high-income self-governing New Zealand territorial economy; tourism-based activity but diversifying; severely curtailed by COVID-19 pandemic; copra and tropical fruit exporter; Asian Development Bank aid recipient

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$266 million (2022 est.)
$257 million (2021 est.)
$287 million (2020 est.)

note: data are in 2015 dollars

comparison ranking: 216

Real GDP growth rate

10.5% (2022 est.)
-24.5% (2021 est.)
-5.2% (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: 25

Real GDP per capita

$15,600 (2022 est.)
$15,100 (2021 est.)
$16,800 (2020 est.)

note: data are in 2015 dollars

comparison ranking: 104

GDP (official exchange rate)

$336 million (2022 est.)

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

2.2% (2011 est.)

comparison ranking: 149

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 5.1% (2010 est.)

industry: 12.7% (2010 est.)

services: 82.1% (2010 est.)

comparison rankings: services 27; industry 196; agriculture 126

Agricultural products

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


fishing, fruit processing, tourism, clothing, handicrafts

Industrial production growth rate

1% (2002)

comparison ranking: 152

Labor force

6,820 (2001)

comparison ranking: 218

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 29%

industry: 15%

services: 56% (1995)

Unemployment rate

13.1% (2005)

comparison ranking: 50


revenues: $86.9 million (2010)

expenditures: $77.9 million (2010)

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-)

3% (of GDP) (2010 est.)

comparison ranking: 13

Taxes and other revenues

29% (of GDP) (2010 est.)

comparison ranking: 31

Fiscal year

1 April - 31 March

Current account balance

$26.67 million (2005)

comparison ranking: 70


$31.4 million (2021 est.)
$3.125 million (2011 est.)
$5.163 million (2010 est.)

note: Data are in current year dollars and do not include illicit exports or re-exports.

comparison ranking: 214

Exports - partners

Japan 41%, France 18%, Thailand 16%, Greece 7%, China 6% (2021)

Exports - commodities

fish products, recreational boats, paintings, lobsters, tuna (2021)


$215 million (2021 est.)
$109.3 million (2011 est.)
$90.62 million (2010 est.)

comparison ranking: 210

Imports - partners

New Zealand 57%, Turkey 12%, Italy 11%, Israel 5%, Fiji 4% (2021)

Imports - commodities

motorboats, refined petroleum, integrated circuits, lumber, cars, edible preparations, flavored water, beer (2021)

Debt - external

$141 million (1996 est.)

comparison ranking: 191

Exchange rates

NZ dollars (NZD) per US dollar -

Exchange rates:
1.416 (2017 est.)
1.4341 (2016 est.)
1.4341 (2015 est.)
1.441 (2014 est.)
1.4279 (2013 est.)



installed generating capacity: 18,000 kW (2020 est.)

consumption: 38.729 million kWh (2019 est.)

exports: 0 kWh (2020 est.)

imports: 0 kWh (2020 est.)

transmission/distribution losses: 3 million kWh (2019 est.)

comparison rankings: imports 189; exports 184; installed generating capacity 205; transmission/distribution losses 204; consumption 203

Electricity generation sources

fossil fuels: 70% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

nuclear: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

solar: 30% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

wind: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

hydroelectricity: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

tide and wave: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

geothermal: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

biomass and waste: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)


production: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

consumption: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

exports: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

imports: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

proven reserves: 0 metric tons (2019 est.)


total petroleum production: 0 bbl/day (2021 est.)

refined petroleum consumption: 800 bbl/day (2019 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate exports: 0 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate imports: 0 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil estimated reserves: 0 barrels (2021 est.)

Refined petroleum products - production

0 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 132

Refined petroleum products - exports

0 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 215

Refined petroleum products - imports

611 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 204

Natural gas

production: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

consumption: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

exports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

imports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

proven reserves: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

Carbon dioxide emissions

114,000 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from coal and metallurgical coke: 0 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from petroleum and other liquids: 114,000 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from consumed natural gas: 0 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: total emissions 208

Energy consumption per capita

0 Btu/person (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: 197


Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 7,000 (2021 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 41 (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 196

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 17,000 (2021 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 100 (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 217

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; nearly 41 per 100 fixed-line and about 100 per 100 mobile-cellular (2021)

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)

Broadcast media

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

Internet users

total: 11,382 (2021 est.)

percent of population: 64.8% (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total 217

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 2,700 (2018 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 15 (2018 est.)

comparison ranking: total 195


National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 1 (2020)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 6


11 (2021)

comparison ranking: total 153

Airports - with paved runways


note: paved runways have a concrete or asphalt surface but not all have facilities for refueling, maintenance, or air traffic control; the length of a runway required for aircraft to safely operate depends on a number of factors including the type of aircraft, the takeoff weight (including passengers, cargo, and fuel), engine types, flap settings, landing speed, elevation of the airport, and average maximum daily air temperature; paved runways can reach a length of 5,000 m (16,000 ft.), but the “typical” length of a commercial airline runway is between 2,500-4,000 m (8,000-13,000 ft.)

Airports - with unpaved runways


note: unpaved runways have a surface composition such as grass or packed earth and are most suited to the operation of light aircraft; unpaved runways are usually short, often less than 1,000 m (3,280 ft.) in length; airports with unpaved runways often lack facilities for refueling, maintenance, or air traffic control


total: 295 km (2018)

paved: 207 km (2018)

unpaved: 88 km (2018)

comparison ranking: total 202

Merchant marine

total: 189 (2022)

by type: bulk carrier 20, general cargo 53, oil tanker 51, other 65

comparison ranking: total 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

the Cook Islands have a "shiprider" agreement with the US, which allows local maritime law enforcement officers to embark on US Coast Guard (USCG) and US Navy (USN) vessels, including to board and search vessels suspected of violating laws or regulations within its designated exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or on the high seas; "shiprider" agreements also enable USCG personnel and USN vessels with embarked USCG law enforcement personnel to work with host nations to protect critical regional resources (2022)

Transnational Issues