Polynesia is known to have many countries and islands. But just how many countries does it have? The answer to that is actually more complicated than one might think. While some are fully independent others. And in come places (Hawaii and New Zealand) the native Polynesians are only a small minority of the population today.

The region of Polynesia is truly vast and it's peopling and the age of Polynesian discovery is one of the greatest navigation feats in human history. Today Polynesia is thought of as a massive triangle in the Pacific grouping various islands whose people have similarities.


What Is Polynesia?

Firstly it's important to know what Polynesia is in the first place. The name comes from the Greek words πολύς polys "many" and νῆσος nēsos "island" - so the name just means "Many Islands". The indigenous people of these islands are called "Polynesians".

Polynesia is a subregion of Oceania and is made up of over 1,000 islands that lay scattered over a mind-bogglingly vast region of the central and southern Pacific Ocean.

Polynesians share various things in common like language relatedness, cultural practices, and traditional beliefs. The region has been colonized by the Americans, British, French, Chilians, and up until WW1 - the Germans.

  • Colonizers: USA, Britain, France, Chile, And Germany (Briefly)

In this article, we will only consider the core area of Polynesia - and not the neighboring regions of Micronesia and Melanesia (which includes Fiji). Also, the Polynesian groups are in various states of having fully sovereign nations, being nations in free association, being annexed into larger countries, and being territories of other nations.

Related: How To Plan A Perfect Holiday In Tahiti In French Polynesia

Fully Independent Polynesian Nations

New Zealand:

New Zealand is the largest Polynesian nation and the native Polynesian peoples there are called the Maori. Today they are a minority making up around 16% of the population with other Pacific Peoples (mostly other Polynesians) contributing another 9%.

The term "Islanders" does not normally apply to New Zealand and is usually used in reference to the small islands of the Pacific.

  • Status: Fully Independent
  • Population: 5 Million (Around 800,000 Maori)
  • Capital: Wellington
  • Official Languages: English and Maori


Samoa is a fully independent nation that was initially colonized by the Germans and afterward by New Zealand on behalf of the British. Western Samoa was annexed by the United States and continues to possess the smaller western part of the archipelago. The population is overwhelmingly native Samoans.

  • Status: Fully Independent
  • Population: 200,000
  • Capital: Apia
  • Official Languages: Samoan and English


Tonga is another fully independent Polynesian nation that is overwhelming native Tongans. They have their own monarchy previously had British protected status.

  • Status: Fully Independent
  • Population: 100,000
  • Capital: Nukuʻalofa
  • Official Languages: Tongan and English


Tuvalu is the least visited country in the world by some accounts, plus it has one of the lowest populations of any fully independent country. It is a remote and stunning paradise for the few travelers who ever get to visit the tiny nation.

  • Status: Fully Independent
  • Population: 10,000
  • Capital: Funafuti
  • Official Languages: Tuvaluan and English

Related: Here's How The Diversity Of Auckland, New Zealand Won It The 'Best City To Visit' In 2022

Countries In Free Accossiation With New Zealand

These countries are independent but are in free association with New Zealand for defense and for New Zealand to represent them.

Cook Islands:

The Cook Islands is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand

  • Status: Country In Free Association
  • Population: 17,000
  • Official Languages: Cook Island Maori and English


Niue is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand

  • Status: Country In Free Association
  • Population: 1,600
  • Official Languages: Niuean and English


Tokelau is technically not a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand but rather a dependent territory of New Zealand. Referendums for full independence have been rejected by the tiny population.

  • Status: Dependent Territory of New Zealand
  • Population: 1,500
  • Official Languages: Tokelauan and English

The United States Polynesian Possessions

American Samoa:

American Samoa is an unincorporated and unorganized territory of the United States. Read more about visiting American Samoa - one will need to bring one's passport to this destination.

  • Status: US Territory
  • Population: 46,000
  • Official Languages: Samoan and English


Hawaii is a fully fledge US State with the native Hawaiian population now being a small minority (around 10%).

  • Status: US State
  • Population: 1.4 Million
  • Official Languages: Hawaiian and English

Other Parts of Polynesia

Other territories and dependencies of Polynesia include:

  • Easter Island: An Province and Special Territory of Chile (Home of The Iconic Easter Island Heads
  • French Polynesia: An Overseas Country of France and A Favorite American Honeymoon Destination - Includes Bora Bora and Tahiti
  • Norfolk Island: External Territory of Australia, At One Point Unpopulated. Most of The Population There Today Descent From Relocated Pitcairn Islanders - Who are Mixed Tahitian and British Descents From the Mutineers on the Bounty
  • Pitcairn Islands: British Overseas Territory, Its Teeny Tiny Population of Less than 50 are Descents From the Mutineers on the Bounty
  • Rotuma: A Fijian Dependency (Fiji Itself is Part of Melanesia)
  • Wallis and Futuna: An Isolated Overseas Collectivity of France

Next: 9 Things To Know Before Visiting Remote Easter Island