About Tokelau


Tokelau consists of three atolls located about 483 km north of Samoa. Atafu is the northernmost atoll, 92 km north of Nukunonu, which in turn lies 64 km north of Fakaofo.

Each atoll consist of a number of reef-bound islets (motu) encircling a lagoon. The islets vary in size from 90 m to 6 km in length and from a few metres to 200 metres in width. The largest atoll is Nukunonu at 4.7 sq km. Fakaofo and Atafu are 4 sq km and 3.5 sq km respectively. From Atafu in the north to Fakaofo in the south, the group extends for just under 200 km. The atolls are three to five metres above sea level.

Tokelau has a total land area of approximately 12 sq km. The reef extends only a short distance from the shore then drops sharply into deep waters. Each of three atolls has its own administrative centre.

Land use. The shortage of natural resources has been the major factor encouraging migration. Practically all land is held by customary title. The Tokelau Islands Amendment Act 1967 provides that Tokelauans may dispose of custom land among themselves but may not alienate land to non-indigenes. Land holdings pass from generation to generation within families, usually being held by the head of a closely-related family group although some land is held in common.

Climate. The mean average temperature is 28 deg C. July is the coolest month and May the warmest. From April to November the east-southeasterly trade winds dominate climatic conditions. Rainfall is heavy but irregular.

A daily fall of 80 mm or more can be expected at any time of the year. Severe tropical storms, once rare, have become more frequent in recent years. Cyclones in 1987,1990 and 1991 caused extensive damage to houses and general infrastructure. There is some concern about the possible threat to Tokelau's long-term survival from climatic change.

Flora & fauna. Poor soil quality and rapid drainage result in low fertility except in areas where efforts have been made to improve soil composition. Coconut and pandanus are the most common plant species although other species common to central Polynesia are found in smaller numbers. Staple food crops include bananas, papaya, taro and breadfruit. Migratory seabirds are common visitors to these atolls. Otherwise rats and lizards are common along with domesticated pigs and poultry. Mosquitoes infest the undergrowth.