What Is the Polynesian Triangle?

New Zealand is the southwestern tip of the Polynesian Triangle.
New Zealand is the southwestern tip of the Polynesian Triangle.

Polynesia is a sub-region in Oceania made up of than 1,000 islands spread across the southern and central Pacific Ocean. The islands of Polynesia cover an area of approximately 800,000 square miles and form a triangle-like region. The word “Polynesia” was first used in 1756 by Charles de Brosses, a French writer in reference to all the island groups in the Pacific. However, a restriction on the use of the term was proposed by Jules Dumont in 1831 during a lecture in Paris to the Geographical Society. Today, Polynesia is generally described as the islands within the Polynesian Triangle, although some of the islands located outside the triangle are inhabited by the Polynesian People.

Polynesia Triangle

The Polynesian Triangle can be described as an area in the Pacific Ocean with three groups of islands at its corners. The term is often used as a simple way to explain the extent covered by Polynesia. The three island groups located at the corners of the triangle are Hawai’i (also known as Sandwich Island), New Zealand, and Easter Island. There are also numerous islands outside the Polynesian Triangle inhabited by the Polynesian People in neighboring Micronesia and Melanesia. Apart from the three major island groups located at the corner of the triangle, the main islands within the triangle include Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Wallis and Futuna, Niue, and French Polynesia.

Hawaiian Islands

The Hawaiian Islands is the northernmost island group in Polynesia. The Hawaiian archipelago consists of hundreds of islands spread across 1,500 miles in the central Pacific Ocean. The archipelago consists of 8 major islands and several other islets and atolls. It was formerly knowns as the Sandwich Island, a name given to it by James Cook in honor of John Montagu the 4th Earl of Sandwich. The current name is derived from Hawaii Island, the largest island on the archipelago. The eight major islands of Hawaii are Hawai’i, Maui, O’ahu, Kaua’i, Moloka’i, Lana’i, Ni’ihau, and Kaho’olawe. All the islands are inhabited except Kaho’olawe. The US state of Hawaii occupies almost the entire archipelago with an exception of Midway Island which is also an unincorporated territory of the US.

Easter Island

Easter Island is situated at the southeasternmost corner of the Polynesian Triangle. It is a remote but inhabited island that is famous for almost 1,000 extant monumental statues referred to as “moai” which were created by the ancient Rapa Nui people. The Chilean island is approximately 15.3 miles long and 7.6 miles at its widest point and has an area of approximately 63.2 square miles. The Easter Island was annexed by Chile 1888 and the Rapa Nui who are the inhabitants of the island were granted Chilean citizenship in 1966.

New Zealand

New Zealand is the only sovereign country of the three island groups. It is located in the southwestern portion of the Pacific Ocean and comprises of two main islands; the South and the North Islands, and about 600 other smaller islands. The South Island is the world’s 12th largest island. New Zealand is a remote island and was one of the last places to attract human settlement.


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