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, government deficits, and limited natural resources are of continuing concern.


Location: Oceania, group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. Area: total: 236 sq km, land: 236 sq km

Coastline: 120 km

Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm

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 extremes: highest point: Te Manga 652 m

Natural resources: coconuts (copra)

Land use: agricultural land: 8.4%, arable land 4.2%; permanent crops 4.2%; permanent pasture 0%; forest: 64.6%, other: 27% (2011 est.)

Natural hazards: typhoons (November to March)

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

Geography notes: 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

Nationality: Cook Islander(s)

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%; note: shares sum to more than 100% because some respondents gave more than one answer on the census (2011 est.)

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.)

Population: 9,838 (July 2015 est.); note: the Cook Islands’ Ministry of Finance & Economic Management estimated the resident population to have been 12,000 in December 2015

Urbanization: urban population: 74.5% of total population (2015), rate of urbanization: 0.88% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)

Physicians density: 1.33 physicians/1,000 population (2009)

Drinking water source – improved: urban: 99.9% of population, rural: 99.9% of population. Unimproved: urban: 0.1% of population, rural: 0.1% of population

Sanitation facility access: improved – urban: 97.6% of population, rural: 97.6% of population; unimproved – urban: 2.4% of population


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

Capital: Avarua

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

Administrative divisions: none

Independence: 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)

Constitution: 4 August 1965 (Cook Islands Constitution Act 1964); amended many times, last in 2004 (2015)

Legal system: common law similar to New Zealand common law

Executive branch: Chief of State Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); represented by Tom J. MARSTERS (since 9 August 2013); New Zealand High Commissioner Joanna KEMPKERS (since 19 July 2013)

Head of government: Prime Minister Henry PUNA (since 30 November 2010), Cabinet chosen by the prime minister

Legislative branch: 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

Judicial branch: highest resident 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 brought before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (in London)

Political parties and leaders: Cook Islands Party or CIP [Henry PUNA], Democratic Party or Demo [William HEATHER], One Cook Islands Movement [Teina BISHOP], Political pressure groups and leaders: Reform Conference (lobby for political system changes)

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

National anthem: name: “Te Atua Mou E” (To God Almighty)


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 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.

Agriculture – products: copra, citrus, pineapples, tomatoes, beans, pawpaws, bananas, yams, taro, coffee; pigs, poultry

Industries: fruit processing, tourism, fishing, clothing, handicrafts

Inflation rate (consumer prices): 2.2% (2011 est.)

Exports – commodities: copra, papayas, fresh and canned citrus fruit, coffee; fish; pearls and pearl shells; clothing

Imports – commodities: foodstuffs, textiles, fuels, timber, capital goods

Currency: NZ dollars (NZD)

Energy Electricity: 240V Australian and New Zealand plug-in type

Communications Telephone system: Telecom Cook Islands offers international direct dialing, Internet, email, fax, and Telex. Domestic: individual islands are connected by a combination of satellite earth stations, microwave systems, and VHF and HF radiotelephone; within the islands, service is provided by small exchanges connected to subscribers by open-wire, cable, and fiber-optic cable. International: country code – 682; satellite earth station – 1 Intelsat (Pacific Ocean)

Broadcast media: 1 privately owned TV station broadcasts from Rarotonga providing a mix of local news and overseas-sourced programs; a satellite program package is available; 6 radio stations broadcast with 1 reportedly reaching all of the islands (2009)

Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 1

Internet country code: .ck

Internet users: percent of population: 6.7% (2014 est.)

Transportation Airports: 11 (2013), 1 with paved runways and 10 with unpaved runways

Roadways: total: 320 km, paved: 33 km, unpaved: 287 km

Ports and terminals: major seaport(s) Avatiu

Military and Security: no regular military forces; National Police Department (2009); defense is the responsibility of New Zealand in consultation with the Cook Islands and at its request