Tokelau (meaning "northwest wind" or "leaf tip") is a New Zealand dependent territory in the South Pacific and consists of three tropical coral atolls (from the northwest: Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo) with a total area of ​​12.2 km² and a population of 1499 inhabitants ( October 2016), 48 of whom live and work as employees of the Apia-based Tokelau Public Service (TPS) and their dependents in Samoa. The archipelago is also sometimes referred to by its former colonial name, the Union Islands.

Tokelau is north of the Samoa Islands, east of Tuvalu, south of the Phoenix Islands, southwest of the distant Line Islands, and northwest of the Cook Islands. The nearest island, Swains Island Atoll, located about 180 km south of Fakaofo, although historically and culturally closely linked to Tokelau, does not belong politically to this area, but is administered by the USA as part of American Samoa.

Tokelau's official name was Tokelau Islands until 1976.



The name "Tokelau" in translation from Polynesian means "north wind". Until 1916, the territory was known to Europeans as the Union Islands ("United Islands"). After the entry into force of the "Tokelau Act" on January 1, 1949, the former name fell into disuse.


Geographic data

The atolls are located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean north of New Zealand and east of New Guinea. The chain of islands stretches from Atafu in the north-west for around 160 km to Fakaofo in the south-east. The three atolls are surrounded by water several kilometers deep; their islands rise only a few meters above sea level. There are about 480 km between Tokelau and the nearest archipelago Samoa.

The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is economically important for Tokelau because of the income from fishing licenses, extends over an area of ​​318,990 km². The boundaries of the EEZs of the Phoenix Islands to the north, the Cook Islands to the southeast, American Samoa to the south, and Wallis and Futuna to the southwest are defined by treaties.

The atolls consist mainly of reef limestone and sand. Their strongly alkaline soils are characterized by high porosity, low nutrient and humus content and high levels of salinity. Poor soil quality, which makes agriculture beyond subsistence levels impossible, is considered a major obstacle to the country's development.


Climate and environment

Tokelau has a tropical climate with a balanced temperature profile. Average daily temperatures all year round are 28°C on Atafu and 27°C on Nukunonu and Fakaofo. Average monthly rainfall ranges from 160 to 360mm, with the highest levels occurring between November and March. The annual rainfall is 2800 mm.

Tokelau is on the northern edge of the South Pacific tropical cyclone track. The frequency with which Tokelau is hit by cyclones has increased in recent decades; since 1987, storms have repeatedly caused severe damage to the atolls. Cyclone Percy hit the islands on February 25-26, 2005, which did not claim any lives, but flooded 80% of the village on Nukunonu.

In autumn 2011, months of drought in the South Pacific region led to acute drinking water shortages in several of the island states there. Tuvalu and Tokelau were particularly affected. Both areas declared states of emergency; the drinking water supply of Tokelau could only be maintained with the help of ships. This event triggered significant investments in the rehabilitation and improvement of Tokelau's water supply.



The territory of Tokelau is located in the time zone called UTC + 12. Tokelau does not switch to daylight saving time. The authorities of Tokelau in 2011 decided to cancel the day on December 30, 2011 (from the 29th immediately switched to December 31) and, thus, change the time zone UTC-10 to UTC + 12 (for New Zealand Common Time) from December 31, 2011 .



The atolls were settled by Polynesians via the surrounding islands. The first discovery by Europeans was made by Commodore John Byron on board the British expedition ship Dolphin, who sighted the Atoll Atafu on June 24, 1765 and baptized Duke of York's Island.

On his search for the Bounty mutineers, Captain Edward Edwards first reached Duke of York's Island with the Pandora on June 6, 1791 and found another atoll on June 12, 1791, today's Nukunonu, which he named Duke of Clarence's Island.

Fakaofo was first sighted in February 1835 by an American whaler under Captain Smith and named D'Wolf's Island. Between January 25 and 29, 1841, all three atolls were visited by the United States Exploring Expedition, and Fakaofo was renamed Bowditch Island, believing it to be a previously unknown island.

Until the 19th century, the islands were self-sufficient. The original population was severely decimated by the activities of Peruvian slave traders, who deported almost half of the population of Tokelau in 1863, including almost all able-bodied men, and by imported diseases. In the years that followed, the immigration of Polynesian men and European and American settlers who settled on Tokelau and married local women helped the population recover.

In 1877 the islands were declared a British protectorate. The appropriate formal declarations and flag raising were made in 1889 by Commodore Oldham, Royal Navy, HMS Egeria on the respective islands. In 1893 the Union Islands (as the Tokelau Islands were called until 1946) were assigned to the newly established Gilbert and Ellice Islands Conservation Area and administered from Tarawa and later from Ocean Island. In 1916, at the request of the residents, the Tokelau Islands were incorporated into the United Kingdom and formed part of the Gilbert Ellice Colony; the administration was exercised by the District Officer in Funafuti.

Finally, on February 11, 1926, in implementation of a decision of November 4, 1925, the islands were placed under the administration of New Zealand; the administrator of the territory of Western Samoa became responsible. In the same year, the island of Olohega (today Swains Island), which had previously belonged to the Union Islands, was ceded from Great Britain to the USA. Olohega is about 180 km south of Fakaofo.

The territory has been on the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories since 1946. The Tokelau Naming Ordinance passed on May 7, 1946 officially referred to the archipelago as the Tokelau Islands, and the Tokelau Islands Act transferred sovereignty to New Zealand on January 1, 1949 and made Tokelau part of New Zealand sovereign territory.

With the declaration of independence of Western Samoa in 1962, its administrator became the High Commissioner of New Zealand, but retained the post of administrator for the Tokelau Islands. From 1 January 1972 the title of Administrator of the Tokelau Islands was transferred to the Minister for Maori and Insular Affairs in Wellington, from 1 December 1975 to the Foreign Minister of New Zealand.

The island was a destination for copra traders, who sold the dried coconut pulp, which is mainly used for cooking oil, for a good profit. A mail boat only called at Tokelau three or four times a year. The first school in Tokelau was built in 1950.

Unlike New Zealand, Tokelau was east of the date line until 2011, putting the time 22 hours behind compared to New Zealand. However, together with Samoa, Tokelau crossed December 30, 2011 and thus moved to the western side of the date line. The time on Tokelau was previously defined as UTC−11 and has since been defined as UTC+13.


Political structure

Tokelau is an integral part of New Zealand. Its affairs are governed by the New Zealand Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Trade, who since 1980 has appointed an Administrator of Tokelau to administer the three atolls. This is always the New Zealand High Commissioner in Samoa. However, a large part of the responsibility was transferred to the Tokelau population, in particular the councils of elders (Taupulega) of the three atolls, so that the administrator only acts as an interface between the colony and the mother country. The Tokelau Islands Act of 1948 forms the basis of Tokelau's legislation, administration and judiciary.

Each of the atolls is headed by a faipule, who heads the respective council and also performs judicial functions. The executive bodies are the three Pulenuku, who call themselves mayors. Internally, there is no administrative separation of the three islands, which send a total of 20 representatives to the Parliament (General Fono) of Tokelau. The number of delegates for each atoll is based on the population of the last census; In 2017, Nukunonu had 6 seats and Fakaofo and Atafu each had 7 seats. The presidency of the General Fono rotates between atolls annually. The respective faipule also takes on the function of the head of government (Ulu-o-Tokelau) during this time. Outside General Fono's session, the affairs of state are conducted by the Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau, which consists of the Faipule and Pulenuku of the three atolls.

On December 2, 1980, the Tokehega Treaty was signed on Atafu, an agreement between New Zealand and the United States on the maritime border between Tokelau and American Samoa, which, among other things, clarified the claims to the island of Olohega (Swains Island) in favor of the USA . The following circumstances are particularly noteworthy in this contract:
The contract was signed in Tokelau.
The treaty was written in both English and Tokelau.
The three Faipule of the atolls acted as representatives of New Zealand.

On November 11, 2004, New Zealand and Tokelau agreed to begin negotiations for a treaty that would have changed Tokelau's political status to that of an independent state in free association with New Zealand, similar to the current status of the Cook Islands and Niue. A United Nations-sponsored referendum on independence was held on February 11-15, 2006. The necessary two-thirds majority for disengagement was missed with 349 votes to 232 with a turnout of 95%. Opponents of secession feared above all the end of financial support from New Zealand. Another referendum was held in October 2007. In this, too, the proposal for a loose tie with New Zealand did not receive the necessary majority.

The Pacific Islands Forum granted observer status to Tokelau in October 2005. In August 2014, Tokelau was accepted as an associate member.


Administrative division

Tokelau is divided into 3 atolls: Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo. Each of them has the same administrative center.



The people of Tokelau live in four villages, two on Fakaofo and one each on Atafu and Nukunonu. Most residents speak Tokelauan; about half of the population can communicate in English. The isolation of the atolls and the lack of natural resources hinder the economic development of the area; agricultural production is at subsistence level. This, combined with the area's overpopulation, led to the emigration of many atoll residents to New Zealand. After decades of population decline, the population grew by 6.2% in 2016 compared to 2011.

On Atafu Atoll, in 2016, 78.3% of the residents present at the census belonged to the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (Ekalesia Fa'apotopotoga Kerisiano i Amerika Samoa), while on Nukunonu, 81.8% belonged to the Roman Catholic Church ( Mission sui juris Tokelau) belonged. Both denominations are represented on Fakaofo, with followers of the Congregational Christian Church predominating at 62.7% versus Catholics at 32.6% in 2016. Another 4.2% of the population of Tokelau identified themselves as Presbyterians (Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand).

According to a 2008 WHO report, Tokelau has the highest percentage of obese population of any South Pacific area at 93.6%. The diabetes rate among 25 to 64 year olds was 43.6% in 2006.



Traditionally, the residents of Tokelau practice subsistence farming, in which the sharing of available resources plays an important role. This principle of communal resource sharing is called Inati on Tokelau. Fishing, the cultivation of coconut palms and breadfruit trees as well as the keeping of pigs and chickens make an important contribution to covering the need for food.

A significant source of income is the sale of fishing licenses for Tokelau's extensive Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The waters around the islands have large stocks of tuna, which are fished with purse seine nets.

The proceeds from the sale of collector's stamps and coins and the export of traditional handicraft products are of secondary importance.

Tokelau became known on the Internet through the free assignment of the top-level domain .tk. However, it is not the island state itself that assigns the top-level domains, but an investor who acquired the right to use the address.

In the financial year 2016/17, the gross domestic product was almost 15 million New Zealand dollars (NZ$), which corresponded to around 10.6 million US dollars. Tokelau's economy is heavily dependent on support from New Zealand. This includes direct financial aid such as balancing the budget deficit, paying salaries for jobs in the area administration and benefits in kind such as the purchase of the supply ship Mataliki or the rehabilitation of the drinking water supply. In budget year 2015/16 New Zealand's aid totaled NZ$16.3 million.



Tokelau is considered one of the most remote areas in the world. There are no seaports or airports on the islands, nor any significant means of transport between the atolls. The archipelago can only be reached by ship. Food and consumer goods are also supplied by sea. The Mataliki, financed by New Zealand and made available to the island state, has been in service for this purpose since 2016. The ship runs every two weeks between Tokelau and the nearest port city of Apia (Samoa) and takes about 24 hours from there to Fakaofo. The onward journey to the northwesternmost atoll, Atafu, takes an additional nine and a half hours. Since the three atolls of Tokelau each have only one jetty, which is only accessible to small boats, goods and passengers have to be transhipped onto barges offshore before they can be landed on the islands. Another cargo ship should be put into service in 2018.

Each of the atolls has its own small hospital. Medical treatment is free for Tokelauers.

Tokelau was the last country in the world to be connected to the international telephone network in 1994. In September 2003, the Tokelau Foundation installed a 384 kbps downlink and a 64 kbps uplink satellite Internet connection on Fakaofo, which operates 24 hours a day.

Tokelau was the first country in the world to be completely powered by photovoltaics. For this purpose, photovoltaic systems with a total electrical output of 1 MW were installed on the three atolls in 2012 as part of the Tokelau Renewable Energy Project. By switching from diesel generators to photovoltaics, Tokelau saves around 200 liters of fossil fuel every day. For periods of persistent cloud cover, when not enough solar power can be produced, reserve generators that can be operated with coconut oil are available.



Popular sports in Tokelau include rugby union, netball and kilikiti, a type of local cricket.

At the 2007 South Pacific Games in Apia, Tokelau athletes won the first three gold medals in the state's history in international competitions. In the Lawn Bowls, Lotomalie Fakaalofa, Sagato Alefosio and Sakaraia Patelesio clinched the gold medal in the men's three-way event. Previously, Violina Linda Pedro and Opetera Samakia Ngatoko had won the gold medal in the same sport in the women's pairs competition. Finally, Violina Pedro also won gold in the women's individual competition, while the men's four-person event also took silver and the women's bronze medal in the same competition. Lawn bowls is a popular sport in the South Pacific States; all 22 participating nations provided teams for the competitions in this precision ball game.

Netball was probably brought to Tokelau by the British, but the sport only became popular when New Zealand took over administration of the island. The sport is mostly practiced during inter-island sporting competitions, along with other sports such as rugby league and volleyball.