We didn’t actually book our trip to Easter Island until we were in Mendoza in Argentina – only a couple of weeks before our departure date. This meant that the cheapest flights by far were via Lima, turning a 5 hour flight into a 10 hour one. A good deal while you can get it though I’m not sure this pricing will remain. The flights are currently discounted because the route is relatively new.
On arrival in Easter Island, early in the morning, we were greeted by blue skies and sunshine. While queuing to pass through immigration, the line for which moved very slowly, we stopped off at the National Park booth on the left which sells discounted tickets (a saving of US10 each ticket) for the National Park (discounted price is US50 per ticket).
We were met at the airport by a guy from our hotel for the short, about 2 minutes, transfer to our hotel. All accommodation on the island is fairly basic but expensive and we had to pay upwards of US100 per night for a hotel very reminiscent of a shabby US motel.
Unable to check into our room until midday, we dropped our bags and headed out to explore the town. The town, Hanga Roa is quite small and most of the restaurants, shops and grocery stores are located along the main drag. There isn’t much to explore in town at 8.30am so we walked to the end of town down to the Harbour where we came across our first Moai.
The Moai are what makes the Island famous – the statues of Easter Island. Raised by family groups as part of their ancestor worship it was believed that when the white coral eyes were fixed in the sockets of the statues they were imbued with the spirit of a specific ancestor who would look over the family and protect them. The statue building period began around 1000 AD and continued into the 1700’s. Sadly by the early 1800’s every single Moai on the island had been toppled due to conflict or loss of faith. All the Moai that are currently standing have only been re-erected in the last 56 years.
We continued our walk along the coast, where there are some restored Moai on an Ahu. There are around 350 Ahu’s around the island – platforms of loose stones held together by retaining walls which were the platforms on which the Moai were placed. There was also the only Moai with restored eyes at this location.
On our second day we arranged for a day tour of the island with tour company Aku Aku, in order to understand the history and culture of the island better. Our English-speaking guide was excellent and although the tour was expensive we felt that it was money well spent.
At only 25km long and around 10km wide Easter Island is fairly small, so we spent very little time on the bus. Our first stop brought us to a row of fallen Moai (Ahu Akahanga) and the remaining foundations of a number of canoe houses.
Canoe houses were the first type of home that settlers built on the island and as the name implies, looked like upturned canoes with no windows and only a small, low doorway. Blocks of volcanic rock were used to build the foundations in the shape of a canoe and a wooden frame was placed over the top. There was also a patio of rounded rocks outside the door for cooking.
Next stop, the quarry – Rano Raraku, where all the Moai were made. This is the only place on the island where you can find the grey volcanic rock used to sculpt the Moai. They were carved directly from the rock and, once finished, were slid down the hillside on their backs into pre-dug holes where they were left to be collected and transported by the families who commissioned them. The quarry is an amazing sight with Moai of various shapes and sizes scattered all around the hillside.
There are two exceptional Moai’s here – one is kneeling and has a goatee and Caucasian features, while the other is the largest Moai ever carved at 21m, but it’s unfinished. This Moai is so big that researchers doubt that it would have been possible to move.
In all, there are around 320 Moai uncompleted or awaiting collection in and around the quarry. This is more than those which were actually finished and placed on Ahu’s (300).
Behind the main wall of the quarry is the freshwater crater lake of the volcano. There are Moai that have been carved inside the crater and these would have been a serious proposition to move up and over the rim before starting their journey back down the hillside and onto their families’ Ahu! The Moai were transported overland for several kilometres and erected on their platforms using only manpower as there were no horses, mules or cattle on the island at that time.
After the quarry we visited the most spectacular and most famous Ahu on the island – Ahu Tongariki. A row of 15 massive Moai all lined up. They were re-erected by a Japanese team after the fallen Moai were scattered by a 1960 tsunami. It took five years to repair and erect them and it was only finished in 1995.
On the other side of the island from the quarry is the largest Moai that was ever actually raised onto an Ahu. This is called Ahu Te Pito Kura where Paro, a 9.8m Moai once stood. Now it lies face down in the spot where it was toppled over a century ago and like many others, has not been restored.
Just below the Ahu is a magnetic stone which is claimed to be a source of good mana and is the only attraction that we are allowed and encouraged to touch (the stone is called Te Pito Kura and the Ahu is named after it).
Our final stop of the tour was a beautiful white sandy beach (one of only two on the island) called Anakena Beach where we relaxed for a couple of hours and viewed another row of standing Moai, re-erected in 1979, set slightly back from the beach.
Off to one side is Ahu Ature Huki with a single standing Moai (the first to be re-erected on the island), raised over 18 days by a group of 12 men under the direction of Thor Heyerdahl (the man of Kontiki fame), using only wooden poles, ropes and rocks, to prove that these giant statues could be moved by man and to disprove the crazy alien theories !