Easter Island holidays, Chile-in-the-Pacific
much of an activity centre and a long, expensive trip from the mainland,
but Chile's Easter Island (annexed by Chile in 1888) is little developed,
has a small Polynesian population and displays some of the world's
oddest artifacts in a barren, volcanic landscape along with a bizarre,
self-destructive history. This is definitely a must-see if you can
Population: about 3,800. Language, Spanish or Rapa Nui. Currency, preferably
Chilean pesos. Dollars OK though the exchange rate is pathetic. There
is one ATM on the island.
Distance from Chile, 3,800 kms (2,375miles). Distance from Tahiti
(the next island), 4,050 kms. Thus this is the most remote inhabited
island in the world.
There are hundreds of moai (stone carved statues) on the island; sources
differ on the precise number and we didn't count them.
Easter Island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
Nui is triangular, 23km long by 11km wide, and was created by the
eruption of three volcanoes that are still visible. The total area
of Rapa Nui is 171 sq kms. There are just two sandy beaches, on the
Climate: subtropical with an annual average temperature of 20C.
Coldest month, August (15C-18C). Hottest month February (24C-27C).
Wettest month, May (16cm of rain). The driest month is September. September to April (i.e. the drier months) is
the main tourist season.
Island's capital is the tiny, practically invisible town of Hanga
moai is possible by rental bicycle though the best groups of statues
- such as the Tongariki - are on the other side
of the island from the accommodation in Hanga Roa, so this will take
some time, and if clouds or rain arrive while en route a quick change
of target destination is not that easy. Due to the not infrequent
rain motorcycles can be a pain too.
A rental jeep (high ground clearance is necessary but not 4WD) is
probably the transport of choice, wallet permitting, though informative
tours from Hanga Roa can be easily arranged too.
from hiking, biking and bathing off one of the island's two pretty
beaches (wheels required), scuba diving is apparently excellent, mainly
due to Rapa Nui's total absence of rivers dumping sediment into the
sea and thus screwing up visibility.
greatest hits on Rapa Nui are, in no particular order:
- Fifteen moai lined up on Tongariki's volcanic shore (the most on
- Four well-preserved moai, a bunch of palms trees, soft white sand
and the protected waters of delightful Anakena beach.
- Hundreds of well-preserved moai in varied stages of completion emerging
spookily from the ground of the grassed, volcanic quarry of Rano Raraku,
inside and outside the crater.
- The post-moai, bird-God ceremonial houses and petroglyphs of Orongo,
perched on the ridge between the massive Rano Kau volcano and a sheer
cliff face into the sea.
- The tiny but perfectly informed Padre Sebastian Englert museum on
the outskirts of Hanga Roa which has clear descriptions and exhibits
documenting the peculiar history of this island. This is where you
will see a female moai, samples of the weapons used during the latter
years of conflict and examples of wood engraved with Rapa Nui's unique
writing system, rongorongo (a picture-based concept where you have
to flip the wood around to read each new line).
Photos of all these locations appear in the following pages.
minimum visit of two days in Easter Island is possible, but due to
clouds and occasional rain that will disturb the ambience and attempts
to take decent pictures, at least three or four days on Rapa Nui is
your Lan Chile Air Pass when you buy your inbound ticket from outside South America. (i.e. there are no Air Passes
if you buy from Argentina etc!)
Beware Lan Chile airline offices in Argentina and Peru. Staff
are ignorant, inefficient and make costly mistakes, so avoid
if you can, or double-check everything.
little of of Rapa Nui's (Easter Island) history:
samples indicate the existence of forests of trees, including huge
palms around 200 AD, and human habitation from somewhere between 300
AD and 800 AD depending on who you listen to. Large fishing canoes,
palm shelters, edible nuts and wood fires would have comfortably supplied
the people with the necessities of life.
than 200 statues once stood along the island’s coast on ahu (ceremonial platforms), transported up to 10kms (6 miles) from the
crater of Rano Raraku - probably by sleds lubricated with sweet potatoes
- where they were quarried from volcanic tuff (porous rock). There
are about 400 statues still in the quarry, inside and outside the
Moai range in size from barely a metre to up to 11m (33ft) and weighing
82 tonnes, though there is one still in the quarry that is 20m long
and would weigh around 250 tons (pictured later).
were constructed from about AD 500, probably as a form of ancestor
recognition or worship by five differing clans that shared control
of the island; the inland-looking aspect of most of the moai indicates
that the clans thought that the moai were watching over and protecting
Peak moai production was in AD 1400 when the island population was
as high as 20,000 and moai size had become highly competitive.
1722 when a Dutch explorer called Roggeveen arrived on the island,
the first visit recorded by a European, all the moai were upright,
but 52 years later when Captain Cook stepped ashore almost all had
Archeologists have found no evidence of natural disaster (volcanic
eruption, tidal wave) and have thus concluded that Easter Island is
a fine example of human habitat self-destruction.
Due to the demands for wood for moai construction and transport in
addition to the the increased demands for shelter and boats for the
larger population the island became deforested.
Fishing boats became smaller and less efficient, soil eroded and crops
became stunted. Result: starvation and inter-clan war, a verdict supported
by archeological discoveries of sudden increase in obsidian (a hard
stone) weapons in the 17th century, corpses that had been beaten to
death and caves used as sanctuaries.
Roggeveen hove into view the islander saw the wealth and sophistication
of the aliens and were suitably awed (according to Roggeveen's own
reports), realising the poverty of life and style in which they were
living. This led to the comprehension that their ancestors were not
protecting them, quite the opposite, the moai fixation had ruined
And so clans pulled down other clans' moai, or possibly even their
own, and by the time Captain Cook arrived in 1774, the great statues
were mostly face-down in the dirt...
1955, when the first moai were re-erected by Norwegian adventurer
and Kon Tiki builder, Thor Heyerdahl. Now about are 17% upright,
though but erosion is taking it's toll.
the rongorongo script? It's still a mystery, but most likely it was
an ideographic (picture) reminder for information or story-telling,
rather than the world's fifth original form of writing.
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