An aerial view of Rangiroa, French PolynesiaAn aerial view of Rangiroa, French PolynesiaOceania is the name given to the group of countries located in the South Pacific Ocean. It is made up of Australia—itself an island continent—New Zealand, Papua New Guinea (together known as Australasia) and thousands of islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The Pacific islands of the Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian groups are the remains of volcanoes that have erupted beneath the ocean. In many cases they are atolls, coral reefs in the shape of circles: all that is left above water after the extinct volcanoes have vanished beneath the waves. 

A map of OceaniaA map of Oceania
A Maori woman with traditional tatoosA Maori woman with traditional tatoos


The first islands of Oceania to be settled were New Guinea and Australia. People first crossed the sea from Southeast Asia between 60,000 and 50,000 years ago. The settlement of the other South Pacific islands did not begin until about 5000 years ago. Polynesians from the South Pacific, the Maoris, first settled New Zealand about 750 years ago. Europeans arrived in Australia in the late 18th century and New Zealand in the 19th century.

Today Aboriginal peoples make up only 3% of Australia's population, while the Maori population of New Zealand is 15% of its total.

The majority of the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea are members of hundreds of tribes who have lived on the island for thousands of years. The inhabitants of the Pacific Islands are largely a mixture of Melanesians, Micronesians and Polynesians, with some islands having immigrants from Europe and Asia.

Nuku Island, Vava'u, part of TongaNuku Island, Vava'u, part of Tonga

Pacific Islands

There are 11 independent states in the Pacific Islands. In descending order of population, they are Fiji (population 890,000), Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Tonga, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Tuvalu and Nauru (population 9000).

There are also more than 20 islands or island groups that are dependencies, territories or self-governing regions of other nations. These include Easter Island, which is a territory of Chile; French Polynesia, which is an overseas country of France; and Norfolk Island, which is a self-governing territory of Australia. With their rich vegetation and warm climate, many Pacific Islands are popular tourist destinations.

Consultant: Lloyd Jenkins

Facts about Oceania

  • Area 8,923,000 sq km (3,445,000 sq miles)
  • Population 36,659,000
  • Highest point Mt. Wilhelm (Papua New Guinea) 4509 m (14,793 ft)
  • Lowest point Lake Eyre (Australia) 16 m (53 ft) below sea level
  • Longest river Murray-Darling (Australia) 3750 km (2340 miles)
  • Largest lake Lake Eyre (Australia) 9500 sq km (3670 sq miles)
  • Largest country Australia 7,682,300 sq km (2,966,200 sq miles)
  • Largest population Australia 23,300,000
  • Largest city Sydney (Australia) 4,627,345 people

The Super Pit goldmine in Western AustraliaThe Super Pit goldmine in Western Australia

See also in Culture

See also in History

See also in Earth

More languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea than in any other country: 830. Most of these languages have fewer than 1000 speakers and are spoken by a single tribe.

With just 48 inhabitants, the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific are the world’s least populous country—the islands are a British Overseas Territory, not self-governing.

The first sheep in New Zealand arrived with Captain James Cook in 1773. Sheep outnumber people there nowadays by 13 to 1.

Creole is a language that develops when a European language mixes with a local language. One of these is Pitkern, spoken on Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands. It is a mixture of 18th-century English and Tahitian. The islanders are descended from the sailors, both British and Tahitian, who mutinied from the ship Bounty in 1789.

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