NASA satellite image of Rarotonga.
|Location||Central-Southern Pacific Ocean|
|Area||67.39 km2 (26.02 sq mi)|
Rarotonga is the most populous island of the Cook Islands, with a population of 10,572 (census 2011), out of the country's total resident population of 14,974. Captain John Dibbs, master of the colonial brig Endeavour, is credited as the European discoverer on 25 August 1823, while transporting the missionary Rev. John Williams.
The Cook Islands' Parliament buildings and international airport are on Rarotonga. Because it is the most populous island, Cook Islanders may often be referred to as Rarotongan, but they may come from one of the other 14 islands in the group, such as Aitutaki or Mangaia. Rarotonga is a very popular tourist destination with many resorts, hotels and motels. The chief town, Avarua, on the north coast, is the capital of the Cook Islands.
The volcanic island of Rarotonga stands over 14,750 feet (4,500 meters) above the ocean floor. It is 32 km (20 miles) in circumference and has an area of 67.19 km² (26 square miles). At a depth of 4,000 m (13,000 ft) the volcano is nearly 50 km (31 miles) in diameter. Te Manga, at 658 m (2,140 ft) above sea level, is the highest peak on the island.
The island is surrounded by a lagoon, which often extends more than a hundred metres to the reef, then slopes steeply to deep water. The reef fronts the shore to the north of the island, making the lagoon there unsuitable for swimming and water sports, but to the south east, particularly around Muri, the lagoon is at its widest and deepest. This part of the island is the most popular with tourists for swimming, snorkelling and boating. Agricultural terraces, flats and swamps surround the central mountain area.
- Motutapu, 11.0 hectares (0.042 sq mi)
- Oneroa, 10.6 hectares (0.041 sq mi)
- Koromiri, 3.0 hectares (0.012 sq mi)
- Taakoka, 1.7 hectares (0.0066 sq mi)
The interior of the island is dominated by eroded volcanic peaks cloaked in dense vegetation. Paved and unpaved roads allow access to valleys but the interior of the island remains largely unpopulated due to forbidding terrain and lack of infrastructure.
Rarotonga is divided into three main districts or vaka (tribes). Te Au O Tonga on the northern side of the island (Avarua is the capital), Takitumu on the eastern and southern side and Puaikura on the western side.
On the other hand, the island is also divided into five Land Districts. The Land District of Avarua is represented under vaka Te Au O Tonga, the Land Districts of Matavera, Ngatangiia and Titikaveka are represented under vaka Takitumu and the Land District Arorangi is represented under vaka Puaikura.
Palm-studded white sandy beaches fringe most of the island, and there is a popular cross-island walk that connects Avatiu valley with the south side of the island. It passes the Te Rua Manga, the prominent needle-shaped rock visible from the air and some coastal areas. Hikes can also be taken to the Raemaru, or flat-top mountain. Other stops should include Wigmore Falls (Papua Falls) and the ancient marae, Arai te Tonga.
Popular island activities include snorkeling, scuba diving, bike riding, kite surfing, hiking, deep-sea fishing, boat tours, scenic flights, going to restaurants, dancing, seeing island shows, squash, tennis, zipping around on mopeds, and sleeping on the beach. There are many churches open for service on Sunday, with a cappella singing. The pace of life is so relaxed that at night people congregate at the sea wall that skirts the end of the airport's runway to be "jetblasted" by incoming planes.
There are three harbours, Avatiu, Avarua and Avana, of which only Avatiu harbour is of any commercial significance and serves a small fleet of inter-island and fishing vessels and cargo ships regularly call from New Zealand. Large cruise ships have to anchor off shore.
Rarotonga is encircled by a main road, Ara Tapu, that traces the coast. Three-quarters of Rarotonga are encircled by the ancient inner road, Ara Metua. Approximately 29 km long, this road was constructed in 11th century and for most or all of its whole length was paved with large stone slabs. Along this road are several important marae, including Arai Te Tonga, the most sacred shrine in Rarotonga. Due to the mountainous interior, there is no road crossing the island. Rarotonga has only two bus routes: Clockwise & Anti-Clockwise. Although there are bus stops, the buses pick up and set down anywhere en route.
Visitors to the island who rent mopeds or cars for local transportation are required to get a Cook Islands driver license. Visitors from Australia, New Zealand, US, Canada, UK and the EU can now drive in the Cook Islands for up to six months using their overseas license.  There is a twenty dollar fee for a Cook Islands license and a test for anyone wanting to use a moped that involves written theory and driving skills.
Rarotonga International Airport is the international airport of the Cook Islands with Air Rarotonga operating inter-island flights: daily flights to Aitutaki, regular flights to Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro, and occasional flights to the remote Northern Atolls of Manihiki, Tongareva (Penrhyn) and Pukapuka.
In the media
- The travel writer Robert Dean Frisbie died on the island, after having lived there only briefly.
- The 1995 album Finn by The Finn Brothers ends with the song "Kiss the Road of Rarotonga", which was inspired by a motorcycle accident that Tim Finn had during a visit there.
- The U.S. television series Survivor: Cook Islands was filmed on Aitutaki, one of the islands in the southern group. One of the tribes was called Rarotonga (or Raro for short).
- A number of feature-length films are linked to Rarotonga: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, depicting a Japanese POW camp for British prisoners in the island of Java in the year 1942, was filmed here, The Other Side of Heaven, which is set in Niuatoputapu, Tonga, but was filmed in part on Rarotonga, and Johnny Lingo which was set here.
- In the 2008 film Nim's Island, Rarotonga is portrayed as a waypoint for fictional adventure writer Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster) on her journey from San Francisco to a South Pacific island.
Yolanda Vargas Dulche named her novella and heroine after the island, an enigmatic woman with superhuman powers.
- The film Another Shore has as its central character an Irish civil servant who fantasises about going to live on Rarotonga.
- Howard Hesseman's character "Smooth Walker" books a flight to Rarotonga in the 1983 Dan Ackroyd film "Doctor Detroit".
- Kingdom of Rarotonga
- List of birds of the Cook Islands
- Treaty of Rarotonga
- Roman Catholic Diocese of Rarotonga
- Nukutere College
- "Cook Islands 2011 census". Retrieved 22 March 2015.
- http://www.botany.hawaii.edu/faculty/duffy/arb/190/v190.pdf, page 107
- "Cook Islands govt abolishes Rarotonga Vaka councils". 2007. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
- "Statoids: Cook Islands". Retrieved 1 September 2015.
- "Ara Metua - ancient Polynesian road". Wondermondo.
- Bus & Taxis / Sokala Villas, Muri Beach, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Rarotonga.|
- Media related to Rarotonga at Wikimedia Commons
- History of districts and villages
- Original Tapere subdivision of Rarotonga