New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands has died, aged 52.

Tessa Temata, the first woman of Pacific heritage to hold a top diplomatic posting in the Pacific, died in Palmerston North over the weekend, after recently returning to New Zealand for treatment for cancer.

"Ms Temata served her country with great distinction," Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said today.

"She demonstrated how much of a difference expertise, warmth, hard work and cultural competence can make to New Zealand's Pacific diplomacy. She will be hugely missed."


Announcing the death, her family told the Cook Islands News Temata would be greatly missed by those that knew her and loved her.

"Our family are incredibly proud of Tessa's 30 years' service," sister Marise Temata said.

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Temata, a career diplomat, joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1992, holding roles in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and Niue and acting as the lead negotiator on the PACER Plus trade agreement.

She was appointed High Commissioner in the Cook Islands last year, becoming the first person of Cook Islands descent to hold the role.

"A respected diplomat with over 25 years' experience in trade, development and legal matters, Tessa made a particularly strong contribution to deepening New Zealand relationships with Pacific Island countries," Peters said.

Temata was also previously Deputy High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea and the country director for HOPEworldwidePNG, an NGO focusing on community healthcare.

Raised in Taranaki, her father's family was from Mauke, while her mother was from Togafuafua in Samoa.


Temata took up the role as High Commissioner in February this year.