From Australia and New Zealand to Tuvalu and Vanuatu, there are 14 countries in Oceania. Here’s everything you need to know.
Covering millions of square kilometres of ocean and islands in the Pacific Ocean, Oceania is home to a total of 14 countries. Stretching from the vast Outback of Australia to the golden beaches of Fiji, Oceania is a continent of extremes.
And having spent several years living, working and travelling through Australia, one of the nominal countries in Oceania, I can tell you, the definition of the continent is confusing. Although it’s seen as part of Oceania, Australia is also deemed to be a continent in itself. Cross the Tasman Sea, and New Zealand sits on its own mini-continent (most of which is underwater) named Zealandia, but it’s also often counted as being in the wider region of Oceania.
To clarify things, I decided to put together a guide to explore how many countries there are in Oceania and to explain how the continent can be best defined. Keep reading, to find out more.
Table of Contents
How many countries are in Oceania?
Oceania is home to a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, and a region, it’s characterised by its diverse array of nations and territories, both large and small. Oceania traditionally encompasses 14 countries, including Australia, known for its vast outback and coastal cities; New Zealand, with its rich Maori heritage and snow-capped mountains; and the island nations of Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, some of which are the least visited nations on Earth.
In addition, the Oceania region also comprises a large number of territories and dependencies, such as American Samoa and Pitcairn. These are not sovereign nations, but rather, they’re administered by larger nations such as the USA or the United Kingdom. Within Oceania, the United Nations Geoscheme has further complicated things by dividing Oceania into four distinct subregions, these being Australasia, Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia.
The region’s history is deeply intertwined with the maritime explorations of the Europeans and the ancient voyages of the Polynesians. Oceania’s geopolitical landscape is marked by a blend of indigenous cultures, colonial influences, and evolving political structures merging the two. Economically, these countries vary significantly, from the highly developed economies of Australia and New Zealand to the smaller, resource-dependent economies of the Pacific islands. The region, facing unique challenges such as climate change and remote geography, presents a fascinating study of resilience and adaptation in the face of global changes.
List of countries in Oceania
Oceania typically includes the following 14 countries, all of which are sovereign, independent nations:
- Marshall Islands
- Micronesia (Federated States of)
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- Solomon Islands
Some definitions might also include additional territories and islands, such as the following, which are not independent nations:
- American Samoa (United States)
- Cook Islands (New Zealand)
- French Polynesia (France)
- Guam (United States)
- New Caledonia (France)
- Niue (New Zealand)
- Norfolk Island (Australia)
- Northern Mariana Islands (United States)
- Pitcairn Islands (United Kingdom)
- Tokelau (New Zealand)
- Wallis and Futuna (France)
Where is Oceania?
Oceania is defined more by its vast oceanic expanses than by its landmasses, as it spans a significant portion of the Pacific Ocean. It encompasses a wide range of islands, stretching from the southeastern part of Asia to the Americas.
Oceania’s geographical expanse is broadly divided into four subregions: Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Australasia includes Australia, the largest country in this region, and New Zealand. Melanesia, to the northwest of Australasia, consists of Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and other islands.
Micronesia, north of Melanesia, is a group of smaller islands including Guam, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands. Polynesia, extending from Hawaii in the north to New Zealand in the south, encompasses a vast triangle of islands including Samoa, Tonga, and French Polynesia.
Oceania’s nations vary in size from vast Australia to tiny island nations, each with distinct cultural identities and histories, and the region faces unique challenges, notably the impact of climate change on its low-lying islands.
A brief history of Oceania
The history of Oceania spans not only a vast area of the Pacific Ocean, but thousands of years of human habitation, exploration and colonisation.
The earliest inhabitants of Oceania were the Austronesian people, who are believed to have started their journey in what’s now Taiwan, before reaching as far as Polynesia and even Madagascar. This migration began approximately 5,000 years ago, leading to the settlement of the Melanesian islands. The Polynesians, renowned navigators, later expanded to the farther reaches of the Pacific, settling in places we now know as Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island.
European exploration began in the 16th century, with Portuguese and Spanish navigators, including Abel Tasman, making the first contact. The 18th century saw increased exploration by European powers, including the notable voyages of James Cook, who extensively mapped many Pacific islands. This period marked the beginning of European colonisation and the introduction of new diseases, which had devastating impacts on the indigenous populations.
The 19th and 20th centuries saw intensified colonisation by European powers, including Britain, France, and Germany. Australia and New Zealand developed significant European settler populations. World War II had a profound impact on the region, with significant military engagements taking place in the Pacific.
The post-war period was marked by movements towards independence. Many Pacific nations gained independence during the latter half of the 20th century. However, some territories, like New Caledonia and French Polynesia, remain under the administration of their colonial powers into the 21st century.
Is Oceania a continent?
Oceania is traditionally considered a continent, but technically, it does not fit the strict geological definition of a continent. Oceania is a vast region comprising numerous islands and countries in the Pacific Ocean, but it lacks a large, continuous landmass typically associated with other continents like Asia or Africa.
Instead, Oceania includes Australia (which is a also continent itself), New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands, which are in turn divided into the three subregions of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. However, this diverse grouping of islands and nations is united more by its geography in the Pacific Ocean than by its geological or continental characteristics. Oceania’s unique definition therefore highlights its geographical and cultural diversity, distinct from the conventional continental framework.
How many sub-regions are there in Oceania?
For statistical purposes, the United Nations defines Oceania through its geoscheme. This scheme divides Oceania into four subregions: Australia and New Zealand, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Each subregion comprises various countries and territories. The United Nations geoscheme classifies these regions for statistical convenience, without implying any political affiliations, but it’s an excellent measure of how many countries there are in Oceania:
- Australasia: This subregion includes Australia and New Zealand.
- Melanesia: This subregion comprises countries and territories including Fiji, New Caledonia (France), Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.
- Micronesia: This subregion includes various island nations and territories such as Guam (USA), Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Nauru, Northern Mariana Islands (USA), Palau, and Wake Island (USA).
- Polynesia: Encompassing a large triangular area of the eastern Pacific, this subregion includes American Samoa (USA), Cook Islands (NZ), French Polynesia (France), Niue (NZ), Pitcairn Islands (UK), Samoa, Tokelau (NZ), Tonga, Tuvalu, and Wallis and Futuna (France).
Are Australia and New Zealand in Oceania?
Australia and New Zealand are key parts of Oceania, but they have different continental identities. Australia is a continent itself, the smallest and most geographically distinct, with unique flora and fauna not found elsewhere in the world.
New Zealand, while not traditionally recognised as a continent, is part of the submerged continent Zealandia. Zealandia, mostly underwater, challenges traditional continental concepts with its 94% submersion. Both countries are noted for their indigenous cultures, with Aboriginal Australians and Maori in New Zealand, and share colonial histories.
Is Papua in Oceania or Asia?
Papua, specifically referring to the disputed Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua, is geographically located on the island of New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean. It is often considered part of Oceania due to its location and cultural ties with the Pacific Islands. However, politically and administratively, it is part of Indonesia, which is generally categorised as a country in Southeast Asia. This dual association places Papua in a unique position, straddling the regional definitions of Asia and Oceania.
Papua New Guinea, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, is considered part of the region of Oceania. It is a sovereign nation and is typically grouped within the subregion of Melanesia, which includes various island nations in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Papua New Guinea is known for its multitude of indigenous languages and traditional societies, and for its significant ecological variety, encompassing rainforests, mountains, and coral reefs. This places it firmly within the cultural and geographical context of Oceania.
FAQ: How many countries are in Oceania?
Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many countries are in Oceania?’:
Q1: How many countries are there in Oceania?
Oceania consists of 14 independent countries.
Q2: What are the largest countries in Oceania?
Australia and Papua New Guinea are the largest by land area.
Q3: Are there any small countries in Oceania?
Yes, Oceania includes smaller island nations like Nauru and Tuvalu.
Q4: Does Oceania include territories and dependencies?
Yes, there are several territories and dependencies like New Caledonia (France) and Guam (USA).
Q5: Are all countries in Oceania island nations?
Except for Australia, which is a continent, most are island nations.
Q6: What is the most populous country in Oceania?
Australia has the largest population.
Q7: Are there different cultural regions within Oceania?
Yes, it’s divided into subregions like Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.