IntroductionCook Islands, island group (2006 pop. 19,569), 90 sq mi (234 sq km), S Pacific, SE of Samoa; a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand. It consists of 15 small islands and is comprised of two main groups, the Southern (or Lower) Cook islands (Rarotonga, Mangaia, Atiu, Aitutaki, Mauke, Mitiaro, and Manuae and Te-Au-o-tu) and the Northern Cook islands (Nassau, Palmerston, Penrhyn, Manihiki, Rakahanga, Pukapuka, and Suwarrow). The islands were formerly called the Hervey Islands. Avarua, on Rarotonga, is the capital and administrative center of the group. The southern half of the state's waters, an area encompassing some 411,000 sq mi (1.065 million sq km), were declared a marine park in 2012. The Cook Islanders are Maoris, a Polynesian people, and are largely Christians. English is the official language and Maori is also spoken.
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