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Background / current information for Tokelau

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Map of Tokelau

Map of the Tokelau Islands.
flag of the Tokelau Islands.


Part of the Realm of New Zealand, Tokelau has a land area of 12 sq km, with a 318,990 mile sq km Exclusive Economic Zone. Home to 1411 (2011 census), Tokelau’s population is spread across three small coral atolls - Atafu, Fakaofo and Nukunonu. There is no air service to Tokelau and all passengers and cargo must travel by sea from Apia, Samoa some 500km from the southernmost atoll of Fakaofo.

Tokelau is a non-self-governing territory and has been administered by New Zealand since 1926. There are an estimated 7176 (2013 NZ census) Tokelauans living in New Zealand.

Tokelau became a British protectorate in 1877, a status that was formalised in 1889. The British Government annexed the group (which had been renamed the Union Islands) in 1916, and included it within the boundaries of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony (Kiribati and Tuvalu). In 1926 Britain passed administration of Tokelau to New Zealand. There has never been a residential administrative presence on Tokelau, and therefore administration has been ‘light-handed’ and impinged to a relatively small extent on everyday life on the atolls. Formal sovereignty was transferred to New Zealand with the enactment of the Tokelau Act 1948. While Tokelau was declared to be part of New Zealand from 1 January 1949, it has a distinctive culture and its own political, legal, social, judicial and economic systems.

Over the past three decades Tokelau has moved progressively towards its current advanced level of political self-reliance. It has its own unique political institutions, including a national legislative body and Executive Council. It runs its own judicial system and public services. It has its own shipping and telecommunications systems. It has full control over its budget. It plays an active role in regional affairs and is a member of a number of regional and international bodies.

The position of Ulu-o-Tokelau, the Titular Head of Government, is rotated among the leader of each atoll (the Faipule) on an annual basis. The General Fono (national assembly) meets three times a year and is made up of elected representatives from each atoll. Executive authority rests with the Council of the Ongoing Government of Tokelau which is based in Apia, Samoa. Tokelau does not have opposition parties. Tokelau’s last election was held on 23 January 2014.



Tokelau has tiny trade flows. The physical characteristics of the atolls allow limited scope for economic development and the few natural resources are sufficient only to meet basic needs. Agricultural products are of a basic subsistence nature. Ocean and lagoon fish and shellfish are readily available and are part of the staple diet. Fisheries licence fees are expected to contribute substantially to Tokelau's budget now that the Administrator of Tokelau is managing Tokelau's EEZ as a result of new regulations.


Aid and development

New Zealand is the largest funder of Tokelau, with assistance provided through budget support and projects. Budget support for Tokelau for the 2013/14 financial year was $NZ 11.7 million. Key projects include transport (construction of a new passenger cargo ship for Tokelau: the Mataliki; and charter of the PB Matua in the interim); and ship-to-shore equipment and infrastructure. Taking into account projects and budget support, total funding for 2013/14 was over NZ$30 million.
An International Trust Fund was established in 2004 to provide Tokelau with an independent source of revenue and now stands at $NZ 79.7 million (estimated as at December 2014).


Embassy and consular services | Office of the Administrator of Tokelau

The relationship is managed by the Administrator of Tokelau (Mr Jonathan Kings) who is appointed to this position by the NZ Minister of Foreign Affairs. Mr Kings is supported by the staff in the Special Relations Unit (SRU) within NZ’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).
The official website of the Government of Tokelau can be found at (link – http://tokelau.org.nz)


Recent diplomatic visits

New Zealand to Tokelau

Tokelau to New Zealand

The Ulu and Ministers often visit New Zealand in transit or on private travel.


Travel advice

MFAT has not issued a specific travel advisory for Tokelau but more advice about travelling in the Pacific region can be found on the Safe Travel website.



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Page last updated: Monday, 05 January 2015 12:12 NZDT