The line of gigantic moai gazing into the distance is the iconic image of Easter Island, a symbol of the island’s unique identity, inscrutable and mesmerising.
The overall experience of Rapa Nui and its archaeological sites (in particular the Rano Raraku quarry) was wonderful.
Lying 3,700km off the Chilean coast, a five-hour flight, Easter Island is truly remote. Also known as Rapa Nui after the aboriginal Polynesian inhabitants, this is a fascinating destination, not only for its distinctive culture but also for is bleak volcanic beauty and landscape and opportunities for hiking, cycling, kayaking and scuba diving.
- Moai: There are over 800 moai around the island, built the Polynesians who arrived around 700AD. The statues vary in size but all have overlarge heads and eye sockets which, it is believed, once held coral eyes with black obsidian pupils. Their enigmatic gaze is at once compelling and puzzling. Many theories have been proposed as to their purpose, representations of venerated ancestors, symbols of power, but no-one knows for sure. At Tongariki you can view the oft-photographed row of 15 moai, particularly impressive at sunrise, and at Ranu Raraku quarry, the source of the stone, there are almost 400 to be seen, some lying down, some not fully-carved. Ahu Nau Nau’s statues were buried beneath the sand for centuries and, now upright once again, are the best-preserved displaying skilled carvings.
- Culture past & present: The moai are the most obvious sign of Rapa Nui culture but far from the only one. Although there is no written history, myths and legends persist. Among them the tale of king Hotu Matua’s quest for a new land and arrival at Rapa Nui and various stories recounting early life of the people and their gods. Religious beliefs have evolved over the centuries as the population declined and can be detected in present day festivals such as tapati, an annual competition of physical skills, and the birdman cult, tangata manu, which replaced ancestor worship. Traditional music and dance and the Rapa Nui language have clear Polynesian roots and the cuisine includes the time-honoured use of red-hot stones either in a hole in the ground, creating umu, or as type of grill to produce tunu ahi.
- Splendid isolation & exploration: Easter Island’s rugged volcanic scenery reinforces its nature as an island stronghold. Hiking and mountain biking are popular ways to experience the terrain, see the impressive crater of Rano Kau, cross lava fields, visit archaeological sites and take in ocean views. Water-based activities include diving down to a sunken moai, snorkelling and kayaking. Anakena is the main beach, ideal for swimming and sunbathing. It’s reputed to be the landing site Hotu Matua. You’re never far away from history on Easter Island.
- A place to lay your head: Remote and rugged it may but not devoid of creature comforts; there are some lovely places to stay on the island. Relax with a walk in the gardens and a dip in the swimming pool and maybe a spa treatment. There’s even wifi here!