If you are looking for somewhere to get away from it all and experience a holiday with a difference then one of the best places to head for is Easter Island, a small, remote Island that is situated in Polynesia. This tiny volcanic island is one of the most remote places on Earth but is also known by a huge number due to the famed statues that stand ceremonial like all around the Island.
Easter Island or to give it its native name, Rapa Nui has been beguiling people for years, drawn to this remote place because of the Moai, massive stone carved statues that have intrigued and mystified mankind for generations. The Island boosts a staggering 900 monuments that were created by the Islanders during the 13th to 16th Centuries. Nobody knows why they were erected but it was their obsession with building the Maoi that led to the eventual downfall of the Islanders and their life on Easter Island.
Easter Island is some 2’300 miles from the west coast of Chile and 2’500 miles from the east coast of Tahiti so it really is a remote destination to travel to. Lying in the south pacific ocean it is not the easiest place to reach by any stretch of the imagination but it is this isolation from the rest of the world that in many ways has helped preserve it.
This tiny speck that lies in the ocean is home to around 5’000 inhabitants,roughly half are indigenous and half are from mainland Chile. Almost all of the island’s inhabitants live in Hanga Roa and not surprisingly tourism is the industry which supports almost everybody.
The island has seen a rise in visitor numbers since the 1960’s when an airstrip was built, though in many ways your experience on the Island is still a personable one, there is an intimacy that you get on the Island that is hard to find in other holiday destinations and you never feel over run by other tourists.
The Island is now viewed as much more than a vast open air museum, although the statues are still the main reason for a lot of visitors. There are also excellent water sports such as snorkelling, surfing and diving to partake of as well so it is an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
Leaving from mainland Chile, it will take you two hours to get to Easter Island. The busiest times of the year tend to be in January and February when the Tapati Rapa Nui festival is staged by the locals of the Island. The weather at this time of the year is very pleasant, usually with an average temperature of 23°C which drops to about 18°C during the later months of July and August.
Brief History of Easter Island.
The history of the Island is fascinating for many people and can be seen as a sad, cautionary tale of life and of all that is taken for granted. Its current name was bestowed by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen and his crew who arrived on the Island in 1722. They called it Paasailander or Easter Island as they arrived on Easter day and amazingly spent only one day on the Island before leaving. It would be another 48 years before anyone else arrived on the Island, this time the Spanish commander Felipe González,who after mapping the Island then claimed it for Spain.
The Island was also visited by Captain Cook in 1774 and he noted in his records that a lot of the maio statues had fallen to the ground, which was a trait set to continue as by 1825 all of the maoi statues at Hanga Roa bay had been destroyed. The Island was also raided by slave traders who kidnapped a large number of the population starting in 1805 and then continuing between 1862 and 1864 when thousands of the indigenous people were captured.
A certain stability fell onto the Island when the Christian missionaries arrived although their arrival saw mass destruction of the sculptures and religious artefacts and most importantly the Rongo-Rongo tablets which is where the record of the lost language of the Rapa Nui was contained.
Although much damage was carried out by the missionaries and the slave traders the Islanders destroyed their own habitat by the deforestation that took place in order for them to build the giant maoi statues. They tore down the trees to use them as transport to move the giant structures and in doing so decimated their natural habitat. The loss of the trees resulted in the soil and land eroding into the sea and brought about the end of their fields for farming and providing food for themselves. All in all the history of the Island is one of loss and destruction.
What to do on Easter Island.
The Island has had a certain pull to travellers over the years, the fate of the Island and the statues that litter it have proved to have a magical charm for a certain type of visitor and although they have been destroyed from what they once were the maoi are still an amazing sight to behold. Apart from the historical charm of the Island, many people now visit because of the amazing water sports and
out-door activities that you can enjoy.
Surfing has gained a strong reputation over the last few years and surfers will be able to find some great waves on the Island to fully experience. As well as surfing, snorkelling is also a popular outdoor pursuit and for the much more experienced, scuba diving is also a popular pursuit, although this is really for experienced divers as it is out in open sea but the corals, fish and unique caves make it a very memorable experience.
Other activities include horseback riding which is a great way to experience life on the Island at a slower pace,as well as walking and climbing which are enjoyed by many of the visitors to the Island.
If it’s the archeology that you are after, then the top destination has to be Ahu Tongariki, this destination is an awesome experience because it has the largest ahu on the Island. What is truly impressive at this destination is the sheer size of the maoi all standing in a row. Standing alongside the 15 imposing maoi you feel an almost spiritual presence as well as a deep sadness that it was the erection of these stones that brought about the eventual downfall of this beautiful, isolated island.
Another place to visit should be the volcano Rano Raraku, which lies about 18km from Hanga Roa. This is also known as “the nursery” as this was the place where the maoi where cut from the hard volcanic ashes. Climb to the top of the crater and you will be blessed with an impressive 360-degree view of the Island as well as being able to look inside the crater to see the lake and another 20 maoi inside. The Moai Tukuturi, which sits on the southeastern side of the mountain is an impressive full figure that you should look out for, this unique statue has a full body that is sitting in a squatting position with its arms resting on its thighs.
For those looking to partake in a climb whilst on the Island, the place to head for is Maunga Terevaka, which is the highest part of the Island with the mountain rising to 507 meters. Although this will take some effort it is worth it to fully experience the panoramic views once you make it to the top.
For any culture enthusiasts the best time to visit the Island is the first two weeks in February for The Tapati Rapa Nui festival. This festival maintains and promotes the culture amongst the Islanders and is an important part of Island life. Festival activities include singing and dancing as well as sporting activities such as horse riding, canoeing, swimming and the Island triathlon. Two females compete to be the Queen of the Island over the coming year in their own competitions and the festivities take place during the day and the night.
If this all seems a bit much and you just want to relax and chill out then head to Anakena, a perfect white sand beach that is the best place to while away some time. The impressive seven maio Ahu Nau Nau that stand as a back-drop to the beach is the perfect mix of what this amazing Island has to offer, fantastic archeological sites, amazing scenery and stunning beaches and water sports.
Easter Island – Final Words.
Although not the easiest place to reach, you will be glad that you made the effort once you arrive on Easter Island. There is plenty to see and do here, apart from visiting the iconic maoi staues, the water sports and other outdoor activities will fill much of your time and if it’s calm and relaxation that you are after then the numerous uncrowded beaches that are available are a great place to unwind and
think about all the amazing sights that you will have seen whilst on this stunning, secluded Island.