So this is where the Easter Bunny lives ...
To start our incredible South American adventure, we headed to the remote enigma that is Easter Island (Rapa Nui). Technically belonging to Chile, even though it lies almost 4000km east of the Chilean coast, the isolated Polynesian island is an incredible place of mystery and history. To get to the island, flights are scarce, with under 10 flights week, connecting the island to both Santiago de Chile and Tahiti. Due to its remote location, all flight to the island, take a minimum of 5 hours.
We flew across to Rapa Nui from Santiago and had planned three days of island exploration. Our accommodation was located in the town of Hanga Roa, the island’s capital, very nearby to the airport so we planned to walk there after we landed. This seemed extremely logical, except for the fact the we arrived around 10:30pm, there were no street lights, no street names and no maps to help us find our way. So, we spend our first hour on the island trekking through the dark island streets, lugging our big suitcases and backpacks to who knows where. Luckily the locals are extremely friendly and noticed we damsels in distress. We were able to ask for directions (even though they didn’t know where we were trying to go) and were even offered to be taken to our hotel, which was in the complete other direction to where they were heading. We ended up getting a taxi to our hotel, and it turned out that we had walked right past it within the first five minutes!! Now in our defence, there was no way for us to have seen it, I’ll stress again, no street names, no street lights! But nevertheless, we had arrived, tired, dehydrated, exhausted and shattered to say the least but we had arrived. Safe to say we slept like babies that evening.
We had pre-booked some day tours around the island with ‘Easter Island Spirit’. They offer a vast range of tours, covering all different aspects of the island. Entrance to the Rapa Nui National park requires a fee of $60USD which can be purchased at the airport or within Hanga Roa. We selected four tours for our stay, the first of which was a full day trip of covering the Moai of Easter Island. Our tour included a pickup and drop off as well as a cooked lunch. The tour covered the entire coastal road of the island with some of the famous landmarks of the area. The morning started with a visit to Ahu Tahai, a site featuring three separate platforms, one of which has the only restored Moai with eyes. The sites most commonly have three main features: Moai (Statues), Ahu (Platform upon which the Moai sit) and Pukao (The red crowns upon the heads of some Moai).
We then headed to Anakena beach which is not only a beautiful, white coral sand beach but also a significant location in the Rapa Nui history. It is believed that the island’s first King landed at this very site, making it the birth place of the Rapa Nui culture.
We travelled further along the cost to Te Pito Kura, which has the largest transported Moai, however it no longer stands, lying face-down from the platform. Aside from the platform this site also has a polished oval rock, which is believed to have been carried to the island with the first King, bearing ‘mana’, spiritual powers. Heading towards midday we made our way to one of the islands most famous areas, Rano Raraku. This site within the national park is also referred to as the quarry, where the moai statues were carved. The statues were carved out of tuff, hardened volcanic ash before they were transported across the island to the ahus. There are 397 moai within the site, all at different stages of completion, a lot of which are half buried. The quarry has the largest moai recorded, at 21m in length and a weight of 200 tonnes, it also has the only seated moai statue. This site was my favourite part of the trip, it was incredible to see the moai statues and to gain an understanding of how they were carved and intended for transportation across the island.
Before heading back to Hanga Roai we had one more stop, Ahu Tongariki, the largest platform on the island with 15 moai on a single platform. Along the road, we came across many fallen and broken moai. Our guide informed us that if a moai broke during transportation that it lost its mana, spiritual powers and therefore, could no longer be used. It is still theorised as to how these huge statues were transported across the island, with these hypotheses still being researched and tested. Just adding further to the mystery of Easter Island.
Our second day of the island we set off very early in the morning to experience and capture the sunrise at Ahu Tongariki. We experienced it on the summer solstice, where the sun rises perfectly centred behind the platform. It was an incredible experience to see the sun rising over the 15 moai. Even the photos don’t do it justice.
We headed back to our hotel for breakfast before heading out again to explore a different area of the island. Our second day tour focussed on the Birdman Cult, with visits to Ahu Vinapu, Ahu Akivi, Rano Kau, Orongo, Puna Pau and Ana Kai Tangata cave. It was a very insightful tour, discovering a lesser known component of the island’s history.
Aside from experiencing the culture and history of Easter Island, we also wanted to get in touch with nature and chose to do a hike around the Rano Kau crater. Although the weather wasn’t fully cooperative, being quite misty and humid, the hike was beautiful, offering spectacular views of the crater lake and the adjacent cliffside. Before we knew it, our time on the exquisite Easter Island was over and we were headed back to mainland Chile to start the next part of our South American adventure.