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Cook Islands

Kuki Airani

Last modified: 2024-06-15 by ian macdonald
Keywords: cook islands | kuki airani | new zealand | stars: 15 | ensign: blue | union flag | prime minister | customs | crown: royal | hmc | letters: 3 (white) |
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[Cook Islands] 1:2 image by Martin Grieve, 18 August 2006 and António Martins-Tuválkin, 7 March 2024
Flag adopted 4th August 1979

See also:

Other sites:


The official name of the Cook Islands is the Cook Islands. It would be rather unusual to say the least to refer to this country today as the Associated State of the Cook Islands. It would also be incorrect to refer to this country by that expression if that were to infer that the Cook Islands lacked its own international personality and had less than plenary competence to engage in international affairs in its own right. Indeed, for example, the Cook Islands recently became a contracting party to the Cotonou Agreement between 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States and the European Union, that Agreement being open for participation only by independent States. As well, the Cook Islands is a full member of a number of world organisations of which New Zealand is also a separate and full member (e.g. FAO, ICAO, UNESCO, WHO and WMO). While the Cook Islands is in a relationship of free association with New Zealand, that relationship does not qualify the Cook Islands' plenary competence referred to above.

The Maori translation of the Cook Islands is te Kuki Airani, not Rarotonga, the latter being the main island of this country.

James Gosselin, International Legal Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, 3 January 2001 (in an e-mail to Roger Moyer)

The following information is from the US Department of the Interior on islands of disputed sovereignty in the 20th century. The document appears to be from early 1998, so there may be some changes. In a treaty signed June 11, 1980, the United States renounced claims to four atolls in favor of Cook Island sovereignty. The treaty was effective September 8, 1983. The atolls were: Danger (Pukapuka), Manahiki, Penrhyn and Rakahanga.
Phil Nelson
, 27 April 2000

The Cook Islands were declared a British protectorate in 1888, and annexed to New Zealand in 1901. In 1965, they were granted self-government with their own unicameral Parliament. They have an elected Legislative Assembly, and a Queen's Representative who ratifies the legislation. (Those familiar with Westminster style constitutions will understand that this ratification is merely a formality with its roots founded in the fact that the head of state is the Queen of New Zealand, as the Cook Islands are part of the Realm of New Zealand.)
Jonathan Dixon
, 17 August 2006

Cook Islands Prime Minister has suggested considering a return to the original flag, designed by the nation’s first premier, for stronger reflection of national colours and sovereignty.
Jason Saber, 3 February 2024


British Blue Ensign with fifteen white five-pointed stars in a circle in the fly. The ratio is 1:2. The stars represent the 15 islands in the Cook Islands group. The use of the Blue Ensign refers to the British links of the Cook Islands, formerly as part of, and now as an independent state in free association with, New Zealand.

Stuart Park, 8 December 1995

The Cook Islands ensign is described and its symbolism explained in the Government of the Cook Islands website:

The Constitution declares the Cook Islands Ensign described below to be the recognised flag of the Cook Islands (Article 76C):-

"The Cook Islands Ensign shall be a Royal blue ensign. The Union Jack shall occupy the upper staff quarter, having on the fly 15 stars in a symmetrical ring, all of equal size and equal spacing, and the colour of the stars shall be white. The flag proportion of length to breadth shall be two to one.

"And it shall mean -

  • "Blue - is the colour most expressive of our Nation, it is representative of the vast area of the Pacific Ocean in which the islands of the Cook Islands are scattered. Blue also depicts the peaceful nature of the inhabitants of our islands.
  • "Union Jack - indicates our historical association with and membership of the British Commonwealth.
  • "The 15 white stars - represent the 15 islands of the group."
(Third Schedule to the Constitution).

Santiago Dotor, 3 February 1999

According to Barraclough and Crampton 1981 [bcr81], pp. 212 and 252:

A new design for the flag was introduced on 4 August 1979. The circle of stars is now white, and is placed in the fly of a British-style Blue Ensign, thus making the flag much more like that of New Zealand. This change follows a change of leadership in the islands. The present flag is not unlike that originally submitted by Len Staples in the 1973 competition.

And according to Crampton 1989 [cra89], p. 126:
The Cook Islands have had many flags, the latest having been adopted on 4 August 1979. It continues to use the ring of fifteen stars (one for each island) used on the previous flag, which was otherwise plain green. The change was made when the Cook Islands Party lost power to the Democratic Party, whose colours are blue and white.

Santiago Dotor, 4 January 2000

The Cook Islands' Constitution describes the flag as a Royal blue ensign. Perhaps they wanted to say British blue ensign (the most natural description, surely) but decided that that was politically incorrect as they were subjects of the Crown of New Zealand? Royal blue ensign seems like a compromise that would issue from that, though it is patently confusing.
Andrew Yong
, 13 January 2000

According to the World Flags Database, the stars on the flag are now larger (since 1999?) and are as shown above. Album des Pavillons [pay00] shows a similar arrangement on plate no. 2.3, fig. 17.
Martin Grieve
, 18-19 August 2006

My own specification shows a flag almost identical (both in the sizes of the stars and the circle which places them) to the one above, but that on the official website shows the stars as being rather smaller, as previously shown on this page [now below].
Christopher Southworth

Colour specifications

The protocol manual for the London 2012 Olympics (Flags and Anthems Manual London 2012) provides recommendations for national flag designs. Each NOC was sent an image of the flag, including the PMS shades, for their approval by LOCOG. Once this was obtained, LOCOG produced a 60 x 90 cm version of the flag for further approval. So, while these specs may not be the official, government, version of each flag, they are certainly what the NOC believed the flag to be.
For Cook Islands: PMS 281 blue, 032 red. The vertical flag is simply the horizontal version turned 90 degrees clockwise.
Ian Sumner, 10 October 2012

The Cook Islands use British colors. The government website shows its emblem and flag but with smaller stars:

Other sources for colors:
The Flag Manual - Beijing 2008 gives Pantone colors: PMS 032 (red), and PMS 281 (blue).

French Navy Books don’t give any color specification for its flag. They illustrate a national flag (with larger stars), Flag of Queens’s/King’s Representative, and Customs Flag (an old version).

Vexilla Mundi gives colors in Pantone system: PMS 281C (blue), PMS White, and PMS 186C (red).

Wikipedia doesn’t give any color specification.

Flag Color Codes gives the following color values:
Blue: Hex. # 00205B, RGB 0-32-91, CMYK 100-78-0-57, Pantone 281, RAL 5026
White: Hex. # FFF FFF, RGB 255-255-255, CMYK 0-0-0-0, Pantone N/A, RAL N/A
Red: Hex. # EF3340, RGB 239-51-64, CMYK 0-90-76-0, Pantone 032, RAL 3024
In December 2023, the Prime Minister suggested that the national flag should be changed back to the 1973-1979 (green) version (, claiming that it would be better reflective of the Cook Islands' national colours and sovereignty.

Zoltan Horvath, 10 May 2024

Version with smaller stars

[Cook Islands flag with smaller
stars] image by Željko Heimer, modified by António Martins, 3 March 2024

Queen's Representative's Flag

[Queen's Representative (Cook Islands, New Zealand)] 1:2 image by Martin Grieve, 18 August 2006

Queen's Representative. Source: an article by Michel Lupant in Gaceta de Banderas [gdb], no. 9, 1993.
Victor Lomantsov
, 7 January 2001

Probably he is still a High Commissioner. Whitaker's Almanac 1986 has, "The High Commissioner of the Cook Islands is employed in a dual role, since he represents both the Queen and the New Zealand Government".
David Prothero
, 10 January 2001

Please note that the New Zealand High Commissioner in the Cook Islands is not the Queen's Representative — this is a separate office, held by a Cook Islander, Sir Apenera Short.
Ken Westmoreland
, 9 February 2002

Sir Apenara was replaced by Sir Frederick Goodwin as Queen's Representative some years ago.
Garth Broadhead
, 17 August 2006

Customs Flag

[Her Majesty's Customs (Cook Islands, New Zealand)] image by Randy Young, 23 November 2015

The Customs Revenue and Border Protection Act 2012 prescribes a Customs flag at Section 11. 'The Customs flag must be the Cook Islands (flag) with the addition in the fly of the words "Cook Islands Customs Service" in bold characters.'
Jeff Thomson, 23 November 2015

Since the wording of the Act was somewhat vague on the exact placement of the words, I took the liberty of placing them
within the circle of stars in place of the "HMC" currently on our site.
Randy Young, 23 November 2015

Earlier flag

[Her Majesty's Customs (Cook Islands, New Zealand)] 1:2 image by Victor Lomantsov, modified by António Martins, 8 March 2024

Source: an article by Michel Lupant in Gaceta de Banderas [gdb], no. 9, 1993.
Victor Lomantsov
, 7 January 2001

The presumed years in service for this flag under the Customs Regulations were 1979 to 2012.
Jeff Thomson, 14 December 2016

Prime Minister's Flag, now obsolete

[Prime Minister's Flag, now obsolete (Cook Islands, New Zealand)] ~3:7 (?) image by Jaume Ollé and António Martins-Tuválkin, 8 March 2024

According to Crampton 1989 [cra89], p. 126:

The Prime Minister of the Cook Islands flys [sic] a blue flag with the Islands' logo (combined C and I) in white in the centre.
But John Walters, the Government of the Cook Islands webmaster, wrote to me in January 2000:
I have checked with the Prime Minister's department and have been told there is definitely no such thing as the "Prime Minister's Flag".
This office is currently held by Hon. Terepai Maoate.
Santiago Dotor, 4 and 7 January 2000

A black and white photo of the car flag of the Cook Islands' prime minister was taken in 1985 and reported by Crux Australis [cxa] Vol. IV 2/18, April 1988, quoted by Vexillinfo [vxf] no. 97. The flag is proportion c. 3:7 and is a plain flag with a central emblem. The background is possibly blue and the emblem white, but this has not been confirmed.
Jaume Ollé, 21 January 2000

Subnational Flags

Discussion on existence of subnational flags

Has anyone seen the flag of Penrhyn Island located East of Tokelau? Does it have its own flag?
Nozomi Kariyasu
, 22 March 1999

The Cook Islands consist of two groups: the Southern (or Lower) and Northern Cook Islands. The Northern group is rather scattered and consists of:

At the Government of the Cook Islands website there is a nice map of Penrhyn with a good history lesson — but no flag. Names: Te Pitaka (the Circle), Tongareva (Tonga floating in space). The present-day Maori name is Mangarongaro which developed from the name of one of the divisions of the large south-western islet. Penrhyn after the "Lady Penrhyn" commanded by Captain William Cropton Lever who landed on August 8th 1788. Another European name was Bennett Island. The Peruvians knew the island as the Island of the Four Evangelists.
Jarig Bakker, 22 March 1999

A person from the Cook Islands once wrote to me that "some of the larger islands in the southern group have a banner, particularly Atiu". Unfortunately, he did not know where to get hold of one. However, it is not impossible that the 500 Penrhynese also have a banner, although they live in the Northern group of islands if I remember correctly.
Thanh-Tâm Lê
, 22 March 1999

John Walters, the Government of the Cook Islands webmaster, wrote to me in January 2000, referring to subnational and/or island flags, "There is only one flag for the Cook Islands."
Santiago Dotor
, 10 January 2000