The oval-shaped atoll measures 43 km by 14 km and has a land area of 41 km². A navigable waterway leads to the central lagoon, which has an area of 359 km². The population as of the 1996 census was 184. The town of Garumaoa is the main settlement. Raroians live principally on fishing, copra cultivation, and pearl farming.
Raroia and Takume were called Napaite, "the Twins" (-ite, two), by the ancient Paumotu people.
The first recorded Europeans to reach Raroia were those of the Spanish expedition led by the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós on 14 February 1606. The island was charted as La Fugitiva (the fugitive in Spanish). It was later sighted again in 1820 by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, who named it Barclay de Tolly after the Russian field marshal Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly.
In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki raft arrived in Raroia after its 101-day journey from South America. Later, one of the crew members, Bengt Danielsson, lived there. and studied the economy and the society. He wrote some books about Raroia, notably his thesis Work and Life on Raroia (Uppsala, 1955). In his 1952 book Raroia: Happy Island of the South Seas, he observes, "The Raroian peace stems from the fact that the people have no material anxieties and no other object in life than just to live" (Danielsson, 294).
The population of Raroia in 2007 was roughly 90 people. The languages spoken on the island are Pa'umotu and French. Pa'umotu is the local language, and French is taught in the elementary school in the island's village of Garumaoa. To attend secondary school the children go to the larger island Makemo. To attend university they can go to Tahiti, 465 miles away. The Raroians are, like most Polynesians, known for their hospitality, and although there are no available accommodations to rent on the island, locals will often share their lodgings with travelers. The Raroian diet consists mainly of local seafood, imported bread, rice and canned goods. The island's main industries are pearl farming and copra cultivation.
- "Tuamotu Archipelago - Raroia". Oceandots.com. Retrieved 2007-10-25.
- Kelly, Celsus, O.F.M. La Austrailia del Espiritu Santo. The Journal of Fray Martín de Munilla O.F.M. and other documents relating to the Voyage of Pedro Fernández de Quirós to the South Sea (1605-1606) and the Franciscan Missionary Plan (1617-1627) Cambridge, 1966, p.39,62.
- Young, J.L. (December 1899). "Names of the Paumotu Islands". Journal of the Polynesian Society 8 (4): 264268.
- Danielssons awarded the Alternative Peace Prize
- Official site - photos of the airport
- Atoll list (in French)
- Official site (French) (English) - bi-lingual portal
- Official site (English) - details about demographics, history, and economics as of 2004
- Raroia article in the World Culture Encyclopedia