Easter Island

Situated 3,600 km from the Pacific coastline of Chile is the isolated yet intriguing Easter Island or Rapa Nui as its Polynesian ancestors refer to it. An archaeological gem, the tiny landmass of Te Pito o Te Henua (The Navel of the World) contains a long line of Easter Island History. Marking the south-eastern point of the Polynesian triangle of islands, Easter Island Chile was first brought to world attention with the discovery of the island by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen in 1722 on Easter Sunday (hence the name).

There is no reason why Easter Island travel shouldn’t be made any time of the year, although it’s likely to prove more hospitable in the summer months.

Easter Island history is shrouded in mystery and academic controversy. It is widely believed that the island was made up of Polynesian inhabitants descended from Asia, forming part of the Polynesian triangle of islands with Hawaii and New Zealand. Local folklore meanwhile talks of two distinct tribes having lived on the island, the long ears of the east and the short ears of the west.

Further mystery fuels speculation by geologists, historians and archaeologists that Easter Island has at some point in time seen the deforestation of its entire native woodland. Save for a few clusters of newly re-planted trees, the whole island curiously appears to reflect a devastated eco region. One hypothesis concludes that native Polynesians intentionally destroyed the islands woodland either for construction, through mass farming or in preparation for ceremonial sites. Archaeological evidence seems to suggest that the islands traditional habitat was intentionally altered and the remaining stock of wood from natural resources depleted. The dramatic collapse of indigenous natural resources, it is proposed, coincided with a tribal war. Unable to sustain the population the result was the decline of Polynesian civilization on the island.

For visitors the big draw of Easter Island is to see the iconic sculptures called Moai. These mysterious human sculptures were carved out of stone and can be found dotted around the island. The enormous figures were made from the rocks of a now extinct volcano and are believed to have been created in honor of the inhabitant’s ancestors.

The Moai are undoubtedly a striking and interesting feature of Easter Island history and act as one the most popular features of Easter Island tours. It is traditionally believed these huge sculptures were installed at ceremonial sites across the island using spiritual power (mana) by walking the Moai from the volcanic quarry into position. Only a quarter of the sculptures were actually installed in their intended places. The remainder was discovered having remained at the ‘nursery’ quarry in Rano Raraku. The majority of Maoi statues are set on top of an Ahu, a stone platform. The sculptures themselves vary greatly in size and position. The tallest reaches 21 meters. Most of the Maoi are between 5-7 meters in height and range from depicting just a head to fuller images of a human with torso kneeling or squatting.

Easter Island and the Moai sculptures are part of the Rapa Nui National Park, which incorporates much of the islands territory. The heart of the Moai structures is the ceremonial centre at Orongo. On arrival at Orongo you pay an admission fee, which enables you to explore the archaeological sites without hassle. There are a number of operators that provide half day or full day Easter Island Tours taking you to all the major sites and points of interest.

Of interest for Easter Island travel is the Museo Antropologico Sebastian where explanations of the islands fascinating history can be found. Between the sites of Ana Te Pahu and Ahu Ature Huki there is a coastal walking trail taking you between archaeological points of interest. At the northern end of the island you can find a white sandy beach at Anakena with picturesque rows of Maoi looking over you.

A fantastic excuse to explore the small island more intimately is to hire a mountain bike. With excellent underwater marine life, scuba diving is a popular pastime. You can also rent surfboards, kayaks and snorkeling gear.

Options for getting there and away are fairly limited and will only suite the most intrepid traveler. LanChile is currently the only airline serving Easter Island travel. There are only a limited number of commercial flights each week to and from the Chilean capital Santiago making the lengthy 5 1/2 hour flight. Due to the geographical location of the island and the distinct lack of competition, air ticket prices are not necessarily cheap. The alternative way to visit the island is by boat. A number of operators run Easter Island travel packages with accommodation included. Cruises range between 3-7 days in duration from the Chilean mainland. Longer cruises to the region can also incorporate a visit to Robinson Crusoe Island. For travelers visiting the South American continent from Australia or New Zealand, Easter Island Chile can act as a stop off on route.

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