Easter Island 09:00 to 17:00
Yes, we beat the odds, as the weather cooperated. In the almost initial millpond, Sea Princess anchored just offshore, transporting everyone ashore to Easter Island, using the ship’s tender service. We booked one of the sold out tours that visited Vinapu, a Moai site still awaiting restoration, Ahu Akivi with 7 standing Moai and Orongo Village, the ceremonial village that hosted the birdman contest with the winner’s tribe ruling the island for the next year. With getting ashore a very remote possibility, this was one of the highlights for both of us and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Our tour report time was 09:15 in the Princess Theatre, where we sat comfortably watching the Machu Picchu film for over an hour, due to delays by Chilean officialdom and a slow tendering operation resulting from freshening winds and swell. Getting ashore about 10:45, once we cleared the Chile Customs tent, we navigated through the plethora of local tour operators and taxi drivers, before reaching the line of buses. Accustomed to large air-conditioned buses, these were 15 to 18 seat mini buses, with minimal or no suspension. On all other tours you are given a sticker with specific bus number, but not here, today we just ambled down the row of buses until we found a bus that was loading and had space. Everything on the island is rather laid back.
Other than the famed head statues, we had no idea what to expect on Easter Island, so what is the attraction and what exactly are Moai or Head Statues?
This is probably the most remote, populated island in the world and is a province of the Valparaiso Region of Chile, which is located over 2,000 miles to the East. The closest populated island is Pitcairn (about 50) at a distance of 1,200 miles. It is located at the SE tip of the Polynesian Triangle in the South Pacific Ocean. Populated initially by Polynesians, between 700 and 1100 AD, they arrived by canoe from the Gambier (1,600 miles) or Marquesas Islands (2,000 miles).
It is a volcanic island comprising three extinct and merged volcanoes – Terekava in the middle, and Poike and Rano Kau at the Eastern and Southern headlands respectively. The population grew steadily, reaching a peak of about 15,000 in the early 1600’s. However, over population caused deforestation and extinction of natural resources, which resulted in the population declining to 2,000 to 3,000 by the time European settlers arrived about 1722. Further reductions to a low of only 111 people by 1877, resulted from diseases brought by settlers and the slave trade. The current population is about 5,800, of which 60% claim aboriginal Rapa Nui heritage.
The best known icon from Easter Island is the Moai or head statues, but what are they?
Easter Island map
These are monolithic stone carved statues with human resemblance, which were created between 1250 and 1500 AD. Of the 887 produced, almost half still reside in the Rano Raraku quarry that produced most of the Tuff, which is a compressed volcanic ash. This material was used for all except 53 Moai, which were constructed of basalt, trachyte or red scoria. The average height is about 13’ and average weight about 14 tons, but the tallest is about 33’ and weighs 82 tons. The up to 10+ mile transportation from the quarry to the various sites and erection onto the Ahu, or base was amazing engineering for these early times.
The Moai were commissioned to honour deceased ancestors, who were generally Chiefs or other important persons. Their bones were buried, then the base or Ahu built first and the Moai erected on the completed Ahu. The overly large heads, about 3/8 of the total statue, contain faces with proud and enigmatic expressions. They are known for large broad noses, large chins, rectangular ears and deep eyes. They are normally squatting, with no legs. With the exception of the 7 Moai at Ahu Akivi, all Moai have their backs to the ocean.
The 7 restored Moai at Ahu Akivi
Our first stop, this is an archaeological site containing two Ahu, neither of which have yet been restored. The Ahu are renowned, being constructed from large, well fitting blocks of basalt that resemble similar type of Inca work in Peru. However, dating from the early 1400’s this pre-dates the Incas of Peru.
Ahu Vinapa I with a Moai lying face down towards the camera. During the tribal wars many Moai were felled.
The huge basalt blocks that form the base or Ahu.
Close-up showing the quality workmanship with the blocks cut to fit with minimal clearance between blocks, without the use of crane and diamond cutters.
Looking along the line of the Ahu with an entire Moai lying face down.
Judi with Ahu Vinapu in the background.
One of the Moai heads upright in a protected area.
Another Moai head face up with a circle of rocks delineating a protected area.
One of the hats sitting upright within a protective circle of rocks.
Rolling grassy landscape inland from Ahu Vinapu.
Looking along the south coast of Easter Island from Ahu Vinapu.
Returning to the buses, we headed out the deeply rutted road and around the end of the runway.
Ahu Vinapu access road, a deeply rutted gravel road. Heading along beside the airport runway towards the town, I spotted a rainbow.
Rainbow I shot through the bus window. It is almost over the top of and parallel to the runway. On reaching the town we turned right, heading across the island to our next stop at Ahu Akivi.
Representative of the mixed grazing and agricultural land with a soft volcanic hill in the background.
In addition to being a sacred place, the 7 Moai of Ahu Akivi are also a remarkable celestial observatory, which I find astounding when you consider it was built in the 1500’s. The Moai are of equal shape and size, and unlike the others they all face the ocean. Each statue is about 16’ in height and weighs about 18 tons.
Located on the southern slope of Maunga Terevaka they are aligned on the 230’ Ahu in an East/West direction. They are also perfectly aligned so that each statue faces the setting sun during Spring Equinox and have their backs to the rising sun during the Autumn Equinox. In addition the line of statues aligns perfectly with the stars of Orion’s Belt, also at the Equinox.
The 7 Moai at Ahu Akivi and the surrounding countryside.
The 7 Moai, which are all of a similar shape and size. This area was restored in the 1960’s.
Close-up of some of the Moai, which sit on a stone Ahu, or base. The Ahu covers a burial ground.
Judi with Ahu Akivi Moai in the background.
Andy with Ahu Akivi Moai in the background.
Surrounding countryside with rolling hills.
Our final glimpse of the Moai, as we headed to the bus to be whisked to Orongo Village, our next destination.
Orongo is a ceremonial village built at the edge of the Rano Kau volcano caldera, at the southern tip of the island. It consists of 54 circular, low, windowless, stone built homes with sod covered roofs. This village was restored in 1974 to 1976 and is part of the National Park and World Heritage Site.
This ceremonial village hosted the island’s Birdman Race, which continued for a little over 100 years, with the final race being in the mid 1860’s. Each tribe nominated a participant, with the winner’s tribe earning the right to rule the island for the next year. The race consisted of climbing down the 1,000’ cliff and swimming out to the island used by the migratory Sooty Tern birds for laying their eggs. The winner being the first to find an egg and safely deliver it to the village, by retracing the route across the water and climbing the cliff.
This is the 1,000’ cliff they climbed and the island is the larger and furthest offshore of the ones seen above.
Looking offshore with approaching rain squall.
This is phase 1 of the low, circular stone homes, which have no windows, only a low door. They are aligned along the cliff so each overlooks the ocean.
Looking inside one of the Orongo Village homes.
A number of homes, with a local guide ensuring that everyone stays on the paths, as the actual structures were strictly out of bounds.
Looking along the front of the homes.
View between the homes of the rock pile in the background that we climbed to exit the site.
Looking along the sod covered roofs, which were arched to drain water away.
Ocean view looking south across the Pacific Ocean.
The freshwater marsh in the volcano’s caldera, which is about 1 mile in diameter and being sheltered from the winds has its own micro-climate.
Judi at the caldera’s rim.
This was the end of a short, but excellent tour, so we piled back into the buses for the short trip back to the tender port and the awaiting Sea Princess.
Sea Princess lying peacefully at anchor, a short distance off-shore.