Population: 19,569 (est.)
Language(s): English, Cook Islands Māori
The Cook Islands is a parliamentary democracy in the South Pacific Ocean in free association with New Zealand. It is composed of 15 small islands whose total land area is 240 square kilometres (92.7 sq mi). The Cook Islands’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), however, covers 1,800,000 square kilometres (690,000 sq mi) of ocean.
The Cook Islands’ defence and foreign affairs are the responsibility of New Zealand, in consultation with the Cook Islands. In recent times, the Cook Islands have adopted an increasingly independent foreign policy. Although Cook Islanders are citizens of New Zealand, they have the status of Cook Islands nationals, which is not given to other New Zealand citizens.
The Cook Islands’ main population centres are on the island of Rarotonga (14,153 in 2006), where there is an international airport. There is a much larger population of Cook Islanders in New Zealand, particularly the North Island. In the 2006 census, 58,008 self-identified as being of ethnic Cook Islands Māori descent.
With about 100,000 visitors travelling to the islands in the 2010–11 financial year, tourism is the country’s main industry, and the leading element of the economy, far ahead of offshore banking, pearls, and marine and fruit exports.