Photo Tour: Around Easter Island

Easter Island -- or Isla de Pascua as it's called in castellaño (Spanish) -- is part of the country of Chile. But it's far, far away -- 3700 kilometers (2300 miles) -- from the rest of Chile. In fact, it's one of the most remote places on earth. That isolation is part of what makes this place unique to its people (many of whom aren't likely to call themselves "Chilean"). It's also probably a lot of what makes the culture unique too. It's that ancient culture -- and, especially, the moai, the ancient stone figures of humans -- that help to make this place so special.

In this page, I'll take you around the island -- some of it from walks I took out from the island's only village, Hanga Roa, and the rest on an all-day drive I took around the island. The next page has photos of one especially spectacular place: Rano Raraku, the quarry where moai were dug out and carved.

To get a larger version of any picture (except the first panoramic shot), click on it; a new window should open. When you close that window, this window should still be here.

Hanga Roa village from the coast, north

Hanga Roa is a town of a few thousand people at the southwest corner of Easter Island. You can walk across it from south to north in maybe 15 minutes. If you keep walking, you'll get to the site above: moai on a grassy site next to the coast. This is a great place to start your visit to the island.

Actually, though, the place you'll probably start your visit is at the airport, on a plane flying in from Santiago (as I did) or, as in the picture at right below, a flight from Tahiti (for the paradise-already-found folks) .It's actually the same plane, and it makes the roundtrip from Tahiti to the mainland twice a week. The only airline that flies here is Lan Chile. So, unless you're Thor Heyerdal, or a passenger on one of the cruise ships that stop by, you'll be sitting in one of those 767s for the five hours or so it takes to get here from the mainland.

If you're as ready as I was to go moai-hunting, I recommend that you still not miss the rest of the landscape. There's a lot of beauty here: it's a volcanic island with big hunks of lava still lying around all over, softened by lots of vegetation (thanks to the rains the island gets). When I was there in November, the temperatures were mild and the weather was great for walking -- especially early in the morning. That's when I caught the view below at the left (and the view above too).
North of Hanga Roa
Plane from Tahiti lands at Hanga Roa

I'm going back in time a bit for these next two photos, which I took just before sunrise in the same area just north of Hanga Roa. At this hour, you'll probably be the only person out here -- the only person walking around, that is! Moai actually represent real people -- and I started to feel that when I spent a couple of hours alone with the fabulous moai at Rano Raraku (on the next page). There are more departed-but-not-gone people at the pretty cemetary -- which, like this group of moai, is right along the coast:
Moai just north of Hanga Roa
Cemetary just north of Hanga Roa

Let's fast-forward to the next day, when I rented a little 4WD vehicle and drove myself around the island. Though not all of the loop road is paved (the tourist office map is, uh, inaccurate about that...) it's not hard to drive -- when it's dry, at least. If you want an explanation from the point of view of an archaeologist, a geologist, an historian, and so on, I'd recommend going on one of the guided tours. But if you're like me -- if you like to wander and take you time to let it all "soak in" -- I'd recommend studying Easter Island on your own (in the museum, in your guidebook) and then making the trip at your own speed. That'll give you plenty of time to stop wherever and do whatever you want -- like meeting some of the "locals," the horses and cattle that you'll see everywhere. (Livestock is one of the few businesses on the island.besides tourism.)
My 4WD vehicle along the south coast
Cattle cross the road along the south coast

Okay: you didn't come to this web page to read about livestock, eh? So let's track down some more moai.

After they were carved and transported from the quarry (which you'll see on the next page), moai were set up on ahu, wide platforms made from rock and gravel that you'll find scattered around the coast. A lot of the ahu are empty now: the moai were toppled by winds or by warfare (or by who-knows-what... there are a lot of mysteries here on Easter Island, like exactly where the idea of the moai came from, or where the people who lived here came from, or what their still-untranslated ancient writing came from, or...). But, wherever these figures came from, they start to seem familiar to you (to me, at least!) after you see enough of them -- in a way that's very different from what you might feel when you see highly-polished marble statues in a museum. That's one of the benefits of taking your time out here: the chance to get personally acquainted with all kinds of locals.

After what I said about ahu, this guy at the left below (yes, most of the moai are of men) is one of the exceptions: he's in a small pit next to the roadway instead of an ahu. His expression is sort of washed-out looking, which is pretty common, This volcanic rock can be eroded after standing out in the elements for hundreds of years. But a lot of the damage was caused by moai that fell over, often face-first -- and that were only stood upright again comparatively recently. The thing about looking at fallen moai, though, is that you start to see faces on a lot of rocks, and (unless you're more of an expert than I am) it's sometimes hard to tell whether they might have been moai once. Have a look at the rock at the right edge of the right-hand photo below, for instance: whaddaya think?
Lone moai near Caleta Vaihu road junction on south coast Rocks on the south coast

There really is more to see than moai -- these views around the Rano Raraku quarry, for instance:
Rano Raraku from near Ahu Tongariki
Flowering bush at Rano Raraku parking lot

The clouds started to move in (I actually took the left-hand picture above after the one at right.) Time for more moai. I kept driving counterclockwise along the loop road, stopping at a few ahu until I got to Anakena beach on the north coast. The left-hand shot below is a view from a hilll in front of the ahu (the platform); you can see both the raised part where the moai stand and the part in front that's simply dotted with rocks. Don't walk on either part of this area: either the raised part (which I first thought of as the "platform") or the part in front (which, as locals made clear when I walked on one, is also part of the ahu).

The right-hand show below is from the back of this same ahu. You can see the red topknot on most of these guys. There aren't many moai with topknots now, but there used to be more. They were toppled and rolled away, washed away by typhoons, or (like so much here on Easter Island) who knows?
Ahu at Anakena beach
Back of ahu at Anakena beach, showing topknots

Near the southwest coast is the quarry at Puna Pau. This is where the stone for topknots comes from, as you can tell by comparing the photos above and below. The left-hand photo looks down into the old quarry, which has a few stones in it. The right-hand view is from the top of the crater, looking out over Hanga Roa (and the rain that had moved in by now).

This is a good place to leave our tour. The next page shows the other main quarry on the island, the place where the moai bodies came from.
Quarry for topknot stone at Puna Pau
Hanga Roa from top of Puna Pau quarry

[Previous page: Goodbye, Vietnam] [Next page: Rano Raraku: Moai Quarry]
[Tour start: Around the World 2003] [Tours]

(These photographs are Copyright © 2003 by Jerry Peek. Much higher-resolution versions of most images, and many other images too, are available at Jerry Peek Photography. Photos are available at reduced prices, or free, for non-commercial use.)

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