After a day of climbing up and down hills and being warm, it was nice to relax on Anaken Beach. But as you can see you're never far from the stare of the Moai. The beach is on the north side of the island.
Rano Raraku is a volcanic crater within the Rapa Nui National Park. At one point it served as a quarry for the Moai statues. It's a bit of a hike to get up there, and the ground is uneven, but once there it's truely beautiful.
This Unesco World Hertiage Site is probably one of the best places to see the Moai's in their various states of developement, from a slab of rock to an almost complete statue.
The terrain is rough and uneven, so wear comfortable hiking shoes. Also the temperature was quite warm, so bring water and put on sunscreen.
The one downside was the $ 60 (USD) admission price
Hanga Roa is the main town on Easter Island. Our hotel was about a 15 minute walk away, along the ocean. You'll find souvenir shops and many seafood restaurants. We enjoyed a lovely tuna steak for lunch, but unfortunately I don't remember the name of the restaurant. All of the seafood we ate was very good.
Easter Island couldn't be described as a bird watchers paradise but nonetheless there are a few species of bird which are worth looking out for as you explore the island. The motus off the south-west corner of the island are protected breeding grounds for the sooty tern and six other species of bird and although you can't set foot on the motus due to their protected status, you can charter a boat to circumvent the islets. Dive boats also get close to the motus on their dive trips so keep your eyes peeled for birds when heading out to the dive sites.
On the main island, there is a sizable population of birdlife which includes Petrels, Frigate Birds, White and Red Tailed Tropicbirds, and my favourite, the Chimango Caracara. The Caracara is a member of the falcon family and can be seen swooping and gliding at various points around the island. These graceful birds of prey are pretty easy to spot, especially around the grassland between Rano Raraku and Poike Peninsula.
Ahu Vinapu is one of the island’s most important and unique archaeological sites. Given its importance it is surprising that many visitors do not make it to this site. If not part of an organised tour, people tend to miss Vinapu. Given its isolated position on the south coast, at the far end of Mataveri Airport, people are put off striking out for Vinapu on foot as it does involve a long, rather tedious walk along a dirt road running alongside the airport. With your own transport it is much easier to reach and gives the option of visiting in the evening when the organised groups have finished for the day leaving you to enjoy Vinapu in peace.
There are two important ahu at Viinapu and one in particular has been the source of controversy for years. The mortarless and precise construction of one of the ahu in particular has led many (most notably Jean Hervé Daude and Thor Heyerdahl) to theorise about a connection between the ancient Rapa Nui people and the South American Incas. The masonry work of the ahu bears a striking resemblance to the skilfully cut stone of the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Inca sites in South America. While these theories are hotly disputed by most academics and archaeologists, it is interesting to note the similarities in construction.
Another interesting find at Vinapu is the unique, red coloured moai standing in front of one of the ahu. This highly unusual moai displays features not usually associated with moai including legs and although headless now, would have originally had two heads! Again this bears a startling resemblance to some pre-Inca statues found in the South American Andes feeding certain theorist’s claims of a South American, Rapa Nui link. Originally, a wooden platform would have run between the two heads where bodies of the deceased where placed until decomposed, after which they were then buried.
The other moai at Vinapu have not been re-erected sand lie face where they were overturned before the mid 19th centruy.
If you are a plane spotter, you might want to time your trip to Vinapu to coincide with the arrival of one of the LAN flights as the flight path into Mataveri airport flies just by Ahu Vinapu and gives a great view of the huge planes approaching and landing.
This Moai deserves a special mention as it is one of the most unusual and unique moai ever discovered. There is no other moai on the island that comes close to resembling the kneeling Moai Tukuturi. All other moai ever carved were created in an upright standing position but Tukuturi has an obvious, kneeling posture. The head of the moai also has what appears to be a beard and is more rounded than most moai.
Another oddity of Tukuturi, is that while the vast majority of the moai on Easter Island were carved from the hard, volcanic tuff of Rano Raraku, Tukuturi was cut from the soft scoria rock of Puna Pau, located at the other side of the island, and normally used as the quarry for the red pukao (top knots). Given that Tukuturi was discovered at Rano Raraku, it is strange that the statue was transported all the way from Puna Pau, especially considering that all the moai actually carved at Rano Raraku were destined for some other location! Why was Tukuturi transported here and not to an ahu? Why is he kneeling? Why was he cut from different stone? Is it actually a male? These questions may never be answered with any conviction and that is what makes this moai so intriguing. The moai has baffled archaeologists and historians ever since being re-discovered by Thor Heyerdahl’s expedition and excavation in the 1950s. Controversial comparisons have been made between this moai and similar statues found in Tahiti, Peru and Bolivia and has led some to claim that the moai were influenced or even made by Incas from South America! These claims have largely been rubbished but there are some interesting similarities between the carving styles, (google Tiwanaku statues) which does make you ponder the possibility that the Polynesian Rapa Nui islanders may have had contact with or even originally came from the South American Continent...food for thought or nonsense...you decide ;)
There is a certain degree of visitor confusion around the group of Ahu sites just north of Hanga Roa village. Often collectively called Ahu Tahai, even in ‘guide’ books, Ahu Tahai is actually the site of the single solitary Moai with no pukao (top knot) standing just north of the group of five Moai standing on Ahu Vai Uri. However, all the sites are, in general, collectively known as the Tahai Ceremonial Complex. The actual Ahu Tahai moai is easily distinguished from the other solitary moai erected nearby on Ahu Ko Te Riku as the latter has intact ‘eyeballs’ and a topknot. Scattered in front of the Ahu are the remains and foundations of many traditional Rapa Nui ‘hare paenga’ or ‘boat houses’, so called because of their resemblance to the shape of a small, upturned boat. The volume of hare paenga shows that this site must have been a significant village in ancient times.
Patience is a virtue, but for the majority of visitors to Rapa Nui (myself included), the journey to this special place has been a long time dream and therefore the urge to dump your luggage and sprint straight to the nearest Moai statue is forgivable. The most accessible of these iconic sculptures is located right in the village by Hanga Roa Harbour. While no single Moai on Easter Island can be described as unimpressive, the Moai at Ahu Tautira is not the most memorable of the island’s 887 statues and if you can restrain yourself you would be better advised to avert your eyes and attention and head just north of the village for your first Moai sighting before returning to Tautira later. This is not to degrade the Moai at Tautira but after travelling so far do want your first sighting to be of one of the smaller, more unromantic sites or at one of the special sites such as Ahu Tahai, Ahu Ko Te Riku, Ahu Vai Uri and Ahu Akapu just a short walk north. (Bear in mind that to ‘save’ your first sighting for the famous Rano Raraku or Tongariki is almost impossible as you have to travel away from Hanga Roa for these sites and you won’t avoid seeing other Moai before arriving at these sites ;) This makes Ahu Tahai anud Ahu Akapu your best option for your initial ‘virgin’ encounter!
Of course having taken that unforgettable first peek at some of the magnificent Moais, wherever that may have been, you should stroll down to the Harbour to admire the two fine Moais located at Ahu Tautira. The restored Moai stand erect and although there are obvious signs of restoration around the neck and head the Moai are good examples of the famous Rapa Nui Moai.
Don’t miss the opportunity to catch a sunrise and/or sunset on Easter Island. They are simply breathtaking and there is an added sense of romanticism and occasion on this island, one of the most isolated places on earth. The best place to catch a sunrise has to be Ahu Tongariki. There is something a bit surreal about standing in the dark while these 15 giants slowly emerge from the darkness with the sun rising from the left over Poike Peninsula. We hit Ahu Vai Uru for sunset and were treated to a spectacular sight with a blazing sun sinking into the Pacific directly behind the five standing moai. Unforgettable experience!!!
Kia Koe Tours
We don’t often use guides or tours when we visit places but we felt that to gain an understanding of the complex cultures and history of Easter Island we would splash out for the expertise of a local guide through Kia Koe tours and looking back I’m glad we did. We later did the same route covered on the Kia Koe island tour independently, using our own transport but the tour proved a valuable introduction to the island of Rapa Nui.
I hate to be tied to time schedules on organised tours but safe in the knowledge that we could return to the sites easily I was happy to go along on the tour around the island. The background knowledge we gained through the Kia Koe tour and informative Rapa Nui guide proved invaluable during our stay on the island and enhanced the entire visit. Armed with a good background knowledge from the tour made it easier to appreciate what we were looking at and heightened our curiosity of the Rapa Nui culture and history.
You can choose different routes through Kia Koe Tours (and other tour groups) covering all parts of the island. The different routes include Orongo and Rano Kau, the western route including Puna Pau and the most popular route covering the southern and northern coast with visits to Rano Raraku, Tongariki, Anakena among others. We did this route with Kia Koe and it cost a very reasonable €32 with lunch although you do have to factor in the cost of entrance to the National Park (a whopping $60 during our stay although this may have changed since – see separate tip on Parque Nacional Rapa Nui in the general tips for an explanation for the radical price hike!!!)
Not so much a beach, but a small, sandy patch of land, Playa Pea is the only genuine swimming option in Hanga Roa. While not the beachy South Pacific paradise offered by the likes of Tahiti or the Cook Islands, Playa Pea nevertheless makes a nice spot for a picnic or even a dip if the waters are warm enough. It is also one of the most accessible of the island’s surf spots, especially suited to beginners. It is a favourite with locals who take to the water for a paddle before the day’s business commences.
Just south of the Ahu Tahai Complex is the Hanga Roa cemetery. Not so much a thing to do but a thing to experience the cemetery is located in a grassy area overlooking the sea on the outskirts of Hanga Roa village. The small cemetery is filled with low key but immaculately kept plots decorated with colourful flowers and crowned with simple but moving headstones. If you are not fully comfortable walking among the headstones of local families and intruding on sacred land, you can discreetly view the cemetery from the roadside without actually entering the area.
The second and more secluded harbour in Hanga Roa is Caleta Hanga Piko. This small harbour also serves as an important base for the local fishermen but is not as busy as Caleta Hanga Roa. However the walk to the harbour is beautiful with rugged coastline leading all the way from the town’s main harbour to picturesque Caleta Hanga Piko. The area is also a significant archaeological area with several ceremonial areas including Ahu Riata, complete with re-erected moai, and Ana Kororupa which is a cave formerly used as a masonry workshop.
The small harbour of Hanga Roa is an interesting place to have a picnic, while soaking up everday life on the island. Especially busy in the morning, the harbour is one of two harbours used by local fishermen and their colourful boats fill the small protected harbour. This is also the place to come to arrange dive trips around the island with two dive centres located here. There is also the aforementioned Ahu Tautira which has two restored moai statues which stand in front of the harbour.