The Cook Islands (Cook Islands Māori: Kūki 'Āirani) is an island country in the South Pacific Ocean in free association with New Zealand. It comprises 15 islands whose total land area is 240 square kilometres. The Cook Islands' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), however, covers 1,800,000 square kilometres of ocean.
The Cook Islands' defence and foreign affairs are the responsibility of New Zealand, which is exercised 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 (10,572 in 2011), where there is an international airport. There is a 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.