New Zealand - Tokelau

Status: New Zealand external territory, directly administered by New Zealand

Population: 1,190 (2008)


Tokelau consists of three atolls (Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo) lying in the South Pacific 480km north of Apia, Samoa. The atolls are scattered: Atafu lies 64km north-west of Nukunonu, and Fakaofo 92km south-east of Nukunonu.

Area: Atafu (2.03 sq km), Nukunonu (5.46 sq km) and Fakaofo (2.63 sq km) – totalling 10.12 sq km.

Topography: Each atoll consists of a number of low-lying islets, surrounding a lagoon, nowhere higher than 5m. The projected rise in sea level as a result of the greenhouse effect of atmospheric pollution could put the territory at risk. The soil is thin and infertile.

Climate: Tropical with average annual temperature of 28°C and heavy rainfall.

Transport/Communications: There are no roads, no airstrip and no harbour. Vessels anchor offshore, and there is a regular sea link between the atolls and with Samoa.

Tokelau was the last country in the world without a telephone system. All government departments and most households are now connected to the telephone network. The international dialling code is 690. There are 253 main telephone lines and 632 internet users per 1,000 people (2008).


Population: 1,190 (2008), with about one-third of people on each of Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo; population density for the territory as a whole is 117 per sq km. Population has been declining, with emigration mainly to New Zealand and Samoa (about 5,000 Tokelauans live in New Zealand). The people are of Polynesian origin.

Religion: Mainly Christians (70% Congregationalists and 30% Roman Catholic).

Language: Tokelauan is the official language; English widely spoken. Local dialects are also spoken.

Media: There is one newspaper (not daily) and a radio station on each atoll to broadcast shipping and weather reports.

Education: Compulsory from age five to 15. There are three government schools, one on each atoll, providing education at all levels.

Additional secondary, tertiary and vocational education is provided in New Zealand and other Pacific countries, and there are links with the regional University of the South Pacific in Fiji Islands.

Health: Each of the three atolls has a 12-bed hospital manned by at least one doctor, several nurses and nurses’ aides.


Overview: Subsistence farming (coconuts, fruit), livestock production (pigs, ducks, poultry, goats) and fishing are the principal economic activities. There is a tuna-processing plant on Atafu and some handicraft production. Revenue is also raised through the sale of licences to fish in Tokelau’s exclusive economic zone and through philatelic sales. Remittances from expatriate Tokelauans are an important source of income. The New Zealand Government allocated NZ$17.58 million to Tokelau in 2009/10.

Trade: There is very little exporting, and most requirements (including food) are imported.


The islands became a British protectorate in 1877. In 1916, the islands (known as the Union Islands until 1946) were annexed by the UK and included within the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. In 1925, the Tokelau group was separated from the Colony and New Zealand assumed responsibility for administration. In 1948, it was included ‘within the territorial boundaries’ of New Zealand. The Tokelau Public Service, formerly based in Apia, Samoa, has now largely been relocated to the islands.


There is an administrator responsible to the minister of foreign affairs and trade in New Zealand. (The administrator may also be the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade but at present the post is separate.) The Tokelau Apia Liaison Office (that is, the government office) is located in Samoa because of its better communications.