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Defence is the responsibility of New Zealand. Tokelau is one of the smallest countries in the world, with a population of around 1500. Tokelauans are citizens of New Zealand which gives them free right of access to that country. The "de jure usually resident population count" was a total of 1,499 people, versus 1,411 in 2011. A further 7,173 people indicating full or partial Tokelauan descent live in New Zealand (2013 NZ Census). According to the US Central Intelligence Agency's list of countries by GDP (PPP) Tokelau has the smallest economy of any country in the world.

Tokelau lies in the Pacific typhoon belt. 'Tokelau' is Polynesian for 'North Wind'. Formerly known as the Union Islands, the name 'Tokelau Islands' was adopted in 1946 and then shortened to 'Tokelau' in 1976.

Tokelau comprises three atolls in the South Pacific Ocean between 171 and 173 W longitude and 8 and 10 S latitude, approximately midway between Hawaii and New Zealand. They lie about 500 km (311 mi) north of Samoa. The islands are Atafu, at one time known as the Duke of York Group, Nukunonu, also the Duke of Clarence Group, and Fakaofo, once Bowditch Island. Between them they comprise a land area of 10.8 km. There are no ports or harbours.

A fourth island that is culturally, historically, and geographically, but not politically, part of the Tokelau chain is Swains Island (Olohega), under United States control since about 1900 and administered as part of American Samoa since 1925.

In the mid-1960s the government was concerned that Tokelaus population of 1,900 was too high for the small islands, so it widened the scope of assisted passage to include family groups. Migration increased after a tropical cyclone in 1966 damaged the islands.

The idea of maopoopo (unity) is important to Tokelauans, and meant that once in New Zealand they formed strong community groups. The largest of these is in the PoriruaHutt Valley area, where over half of the countrys Tokelauans live. There are also communities in Auckland, Taupo and Rotorua. Many suffered culture shock when they first arrived. The climate, language, and the trappings of modern western life, were all foreign.

The early arrivals knew little English, and children struggled to adapt from an oral tradition to a written culture. Few kept studying past secondary school, to the disappointment of their parents. Most Tokelauan Protestants joined the Pacific Island Presbyterian Church. The Catholic church halls in Petone and Porirua also became popular venues for community gatherings. In 2013, 83% of Tokelauans belonged to a religious group. Younger people were less likely to be religious.

Tokelau currently has no air transportation, and the only means of transport is by sea from Samoa (the trip usually takes between 24 and 30 hours). All travel and supplies into and out of Tokelau originate and terminate in Samoa, Tokelau's closest neighbor. Tokelau has no harbors or ports. The best way for travelers to get to Tokelau is from Apia, Samoa, by ship, which runs every 2 weeks. The trip takes about 24-36 hours each way, and the ship makes the round trip in five days. Passengers must bring their own mattresses to sleep on. Food is provided, and there is one bathroom for the passengers. Since there is no harbor in Tokelau, launches are used to embark and disembark

There is little tourism on the atolls of Tokelau. There are few tourist attractions, which means that a visit to Tokelau affords a quiet getaway, far off the beaten path. There is one hotel in Tokelau, the Luanaliki. This hotel is located on Nukunonu. There is one resort, Fale Fa, also on Nukunonu. There is also a guest house on Atafu, the Feliti Lopa.

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