RarotongaRarotonga is the most populous of the Cook Islands, with a population of 10,649 (2016 Cook Islands Census), out of the country's total resident population of 14,802. Captain John Dibbs, master of the colonial brig Endeavour, is credited as the European discoverer on 25 July 1823, while transporting the missionary Reverend John Williams.
The Cook Islands' Parliament buildings and international airport are on Rarotonga. 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 km (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.
Along the southeast coast off Muri Beach are four small coral islets within a few hundred metres of the shore and within the fringing coral reef. From north to south, the islets are: #Motutapu, 11.0 ha #Oneroa, 10.6 ha #Koromiri, 3.0 ha #Taakoka, 1.7 ha
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.
A large tract of land has been set aside in the south east as the Takitumu Conservation Area to protect native birds and plants, especially the endangered kakerori, the Rarotonga flycatcher.
HistoryThe earliest evidence of human presence in the Southern Cook Islands has been dated to around AD 1000. Trading contact was evidently maintained with the Austral Islands, Society Islands and the Marquesas to import basalt that was used for making local adze heads, while a pottery fragment found on Ma'uke has been traced to Tongatapu to the west, the main island of Tonga. At least 30 of the traditional Polynesian crop plants found here were likewise introduced from the west.
Fletcher Christian visited the island in 1789 on but did not land. Captain Theodore Walker sighted the island in 1813 on the ship Endeavour. The first recorded landing by a European was Captain Philip Goodenough with William Wentworth in 1814 on the schooner Cumberland.
SubdivisionsRarotonga 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.
In 2008, the three vaka councils of Rarotonga were abolished.
Area attractionsPalm-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 attractions 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. People congregate at the sea wall that skirts the end of the airport's runway to be "jetblasted" by aircraft.
Rarotonga has three harbours, Avatiu, Avarua and Avana, of which only Avatiu harbour is of commercial significance. The Port of Avatiu serves a small fleet of inter-island and fishing vessels, with cargo ships regularly visiting from New Zealand via other Pacific Islands ports. Large cruise ships regularly visit Rarotonga but the port is too small for cruise ships to enter and they are required to anchor off shore outside the harbour.
The island is encircled by a main road, Ara Tapu, that traces the coast. Three-quarters of Rarotonga is also 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 and anticlockwise. The clockwise bus runs from morning operating an hourly schedule until a last service at 11pm. The anti-clockwise route leaves Avarua on the half-hour, with the last service at 4.30 pm. Although there are bus stops, the buses pick up and set down anywhere en route.
Rarotonga International Airport is the international airport of the Cook Islands. Air Rarotonga operates domestic 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.
As of 2017 Air New Zealand operates weekly direct flights to and from Los Angeles and Sydney, in addition to five flights a week from Auckland. An additional six flights per week from Auckland are operated by Jetstar (3) and Virgin Australia (3). Air Tahiti operates one or two flights per week direct to and from Papeete, depending on the season.