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 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. 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.
This walk passes Te Rua Manga, the prominent needle-shaped rock visible from the air and some coastal areas. Hikes can also be taken to 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, horse back riding, hiking, deep-sea fishing, boat tours, scenic flights, restaurants, dancing, island shows, squash, tennis, zipping around on mopeds, and sleeping on the beach. There are many churches open for service on Sunday, and the beautiful a capella singing makes them a must. The pace of life is so relaxed that at night people congregate at the sea wall that skirts the end of the runway and watch the jets land.