Page last updated at 14:33 GMT, Friday, 30 December 2011

Regions and territories: Tokelau

Map of Tokelau

Three far-flung coral atolls - Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo - make up Tokelau, a Polynesian territory of New Zealand in the South Pacific.

Lying between New Zealand and Hawaii, Tokelau has few physical links with the wider world. There is no airport and it takes more than a day at sea to reach its southern neighbour, Samoa.

Tokelau's electorate, numbering around 600, have rejected self-rule in two separate referendums held in 2006 and 2007.


Most of the 1,500 islanders live by subsistence farming. Thousands have chosen to leave, usually for New Zealand or Samoa. The latter has a similar culture and language.

The UN has earmarked Tokelau as one of a number of territories where it wants to encourage greater independence. However, Tokelauans voted in February 2006 to retain their colonial status, rather than to take on greater autonomy.

Tokelau has few resources apart from its fishing grounds, but makes some money from the sale of fishing rights and the use of its internet domain. New Zealand provides around 80% of the territory's budget and has tried to allay fears that it will abandon the atolls should Tokelau become autonomous.

Emigrants from other Polynesian islands were the first settlers. Nineteenth-century whalers and missionaries were among the first European visitors to Tokelau, formerly known as the Union Islands.

The atolls became a British protectorate in the late 19th century and for a time were part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony. New Zealand administered Tokelau from 1926.

Like other low-lying Pacific territories, Tokelau is said to be at risk from rising sea levels. It is also vulnerable to tropical cyclones.

In July 2009 Tokelau announced its ambition to become completely energy self-sufficient in a year's time. Tokelau's Ulu (leader), Foua Toloa, said that "we'll try to beat every nation in the world to become the first country to be energy renewable, completely run by solar power and a little bit of coconut oil."

At the end of 2011, Tokelau - together with its Pacific neighbour Samoa - took a radical step to improve regional trade links by "skipping" a day and jumping westward across the international dateline to bring it closer in time to its main trade partners Australia and New Zealand.


  • Territory: Tokelau
  • Status: Self-governing territory of New Zealand
  • Population: 1,466 (NZ Statistics Office, 2006)
  • Capital: Seat of government rotates annually among the atolls
  • Area: 12 sq km (4.7 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Tokelauan, English
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 68 years (men), 70 years (women)
  • Monetary unit: 1 New Zealand dollar ($NZ) = 100 cents
  • Main exports: Copra, handicrafts, stamps and coins
  • GNI per capita: n/a
  • Internet domain: .tk
  • International dialling code: +690


Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II

Political leadership revolves around three Faipule, or village heads, who take it in turns to oversee a cabinet - the Council for Ongoing Government - for a year.

The General Fono, an assembly of elected delegates, handles local legislative affairs. It is also responsible for the territory's budget.

Each atoll has a Taupulega, or Council of Elders.


Each atoll operates an FM community radio station, carrying shipping news, weather reports and music. The stations are: Radio Atafu FM; Radio Fakaofo FM; and Radio Nukunonu FM.

The outlets are overseen by the Council for Ongoing Government.

Print Sponsor




Compiled by BBC Monitoring

Samoa and Tokelau skip dateline
30 Dec 11 |  Asia
Tokelau plans an all-renewables future
09 Dec 11 |  Science & Environment
South Pacific water woes increase
06 Oct 11 |  Asia-Pacific
Tokelau declares whale sanctuary
14 Apr 10 |  Asia-Pacific
Tokelau fails to back self-rule
25 Oct 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Tokelau rejects self-government
16 Feb 06 |  Asia-Pacific

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific