Easter Island: Intriguing Rapa Nui

Moai statues, cut from an extinct volcano by an unknown people, guard Easter Island’s beaches and hillsides. Their mysterious presence evokes wonder.

by Monica Conrady

Easter Island-403Easter Island—Rapa Nui—had long been on our travel wish list but getting there was a challenge. Situated in the Pacific, roughly 2,200 miles off the coast of Chile, it’s definitely one of the world’s most remote islands.

But this year, when planning a trip to Colombia, we decided that the time had come. We would fly from Bogota to Easter Island via Santiago, Chile and back to Bogota, before flying home to San Francisco. So one morning in early March, we landed at Ataveri Airport. As we flew in, I was surprised at how lush and green it all was—I was expecting a more bleak and barren landscape.

Our lady host, Vai, greeted us and took us to our guesthouse, the Te Óra. It consisted of three charming, if funky, rooms, each with en suite bath, refrigerator and coffee pot. They opened out onto a sunny, leafy patio, surrounded by a low stone wall. The location was superb—right on the sea, looking over to the little fishing harbor. A short walk along the waterfront took us into Hanga Roa, the island’s only village, where we found the post office, the church, an ATM, a few mini-markets, and a handful of restaurants and coffee bars. All very low key.

 Rano Raraku, Aku Tongariki, Anakena Beach

To see the island and visit the national parks, you need to take a tour or rent a car: there is no public transportation. We chose an all-day tour with Mr. Moi, of Ancestral Tour. We drove first to Rano Raraku, an extinct volcano which contains the quarry where the Moai or statues were cut.Easter Island-409

You can wander around on footpaths between the Moai—some upright, some fallen, some broken, some lying on their backs only half finished. Next was Aku Tongariki, a stunning site on the coast nearby, with fifteen immense Moai standing to attention on an ahu, or platform.

Lunch was next, a whole fish that Moi cooked on hot coals at the park headquarters. Delicious.

Our final stop was at lovely Anakena Beach, where on the hillside above stood a lone Moai restored in the 1950’s by Thor Heyerdahl and a team of islanders. A group of seven more Moais stood guard over the beach. Later, back at our residencial, we relaxed on the patio with a platter of cheese, fruit and crackers, washed down with a bottle of Chilean wine while watching the sunset. Blissful.

Rano Kau

Easter Island-403-3Next day, we rented a stick shift car and set off to visit Rano Kau, the crater lake of an extinct volcano and Orongo Ceremonial village on the slope beside it. That evening, after another happy hour on the patio, we attended a traditional dance show. The best part for us was watching the local children seated near us, just dying to get up on the stage and dance along.

On reflection, seeing the Moai, standing sentinel on a cliff, just like in the coffee table books, is awe-inspiring. But even more so is the fact they are scattered all over the island: some intact, some toppled, never wearing the same expression. The age-old questions remain; how did Polynesian people with only crude stone tools carve these enormous statues and then transport them across the island and erect them? There are many theories, but nobody knows for sure. A mystery indeed.

We were told that two or three days was enough time for an Easter Island visit but I disagree. I wished for a few more days to stroll around, take a swim in a rock pool, and sit at an outdoor café to enjoy the island vibe. I’ll just keep dreaming.

Easter Island-405Monica Conrady is a freelance travel and feature writer based in San Francisco. Born and raised in London, she has traveled extensively and has rarely been to a country she didn’t like.

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