Meet the Moai: Face to Face to With the Mysterious History of Easter Island

The Second Most Remote Place in the World?

Hotly disputed I’m sure, but there is no denying that at over 3,500km from the mainland of South America, Easter Island is certainly remote. ‘Isla de Pascua’ in Chilean Spanish or ‘Rapa Nui’ in the native tongue, Easter Island boasts the celebrated Moai, and what a formidable presence they cast over the mostly barren island.

To venture to Easter Island was one of those difficult travel decisions. Aside from one of those family-friendly (chequebook unfriendly) Pacific cruises, the only other (and similarly expensive) travel method is to fly from Santiago, Chile. It is reminiscent of the backpacker’s dream of visiting the Galapagos Islands while travelling through Ecuador – sometimes you just have to put the financial cost aside and go anyway. A love of travel to ‘off the beaten track’ destinations will always pique my curiosity and having just returned from visiting Antarctica, I was seriously looking forward to some tropical island sun.Easter Island Maoi Stone Heads. Courtesy of Alex Hardy and The Young Pioneer: An Adventure Travel Magazine

First Impressions

What I found was a combination of the hospitality of Fiji and the majestic allure of Macchu Picchu. The kind of welcome that makes you feel like you’re on a tropical holiday but in a place with a seriously interesting past, and massive stone statues to prove it.

Whilst the scientists continue to argue about the history of the island and what happened to its native inhabitants, one thing is for sure: Easter Island should be on everyone’s bucket list. My preferred method of transport around the island was to hire a scooter and zoom around at my own leisure, stopping at the archaeological sites, souvenir browsing at the local artisan stalls and partaking in the mandatory tasting of seafood and a local pineapple (it was delicious!).

One striking aspect of the landscape is the all too apparent lack of vegetation. Despite recent conservation efforts, the island is practically treeless. Whether due to the hand of man or otherwise, the rolling grass fields speckled with rocks create an otherworldly feel. Riding on my scooter and navigating the sweeping bends of the island’s impressive roads, I had gambled on a passing tropical shower to miss the island. Unfortunately I was not so lucky. It did however provide me with one of my fondest travelling memories, for as I negotiated a small crest, the rain stinging my face, my clothes now sodden, my first Moai appeared up ahead and I swore that it could have been alien.

Introducing the Moai

The stars of the Easter Island show are undoubtedly the Moai, their stone carved features jutting out of the landscape at odd angles and nearly always facing inland. The sad truth is that the vast majority of the Moai have been lost to ruin, eroding in the unrelenting trade winds and storms of the tropical Pacific. To further add to the Moai’s misery, devastating tsunamis have toppled many of the Moai since their initial construction. A mere fraction of them are thought to remain intact.

That makes the remaining Moai all the more special and I spent a serious amount of time getting the perfect photo at Rano Raraku and Ahu Tongariki. These two sights by far the most spectacular. Soaking up the sun at the north facing Anakena beach, the frightful memories of a zero degree ‘polar plunge’ in Antarctica a few days previously were all but forgotten. This is the Pacific paradise you will see in the tourist brochures, and the water was truly delightful. Where else combines a tropical getaway and the mystery of ancient ruins so seamlessly?Easter Island Maoi Stone Heads. Courtesy of Alex Hardy and The Young Pioneer: An Adventure Travel Magazine

Who’s doing the Birdman?

A trip to Easter Island isn’t complete without hiking to the top of Orongo, (an extinct volcano crater – don’t worry, the last eruption was about 100,000 years ago) to explore the ruins of a ceremonial village. There are no Moai up here but listening to a Rapa Nui local explain the Birdman contest is a satisfying experience that demonstrates a link to the past is alive and well with the island’s modern folk. The Birdman was a feat of strength and perseverance whereby the local tribesmen would compete to recover the first seabird egg laid on a rocky crag offshore and return the egg back to the island proper, unscathed. His clan’s chief would then be crowned, the Birdman for the next 12 months. Makes next weekend’s football game look a little lame.

Owing to the island’s volcanic past, there are a series of lava tubes and caves that can be explored, some with spectacular ‘windows’ out to the ocean. A flashlight is highly recommended. Sick of all the amazing local attractions yet? Well you can always jump on a board and surf some amazing breaks around the island or get inked at some of the local artists preserving the ancient Polynesian styles. If wildlife is more your thing, there are the migratory sea birds rarely seen in other parts of the world and rolling grass hills to be explored on horseback.

My final moments on Easter Island consisted of a seafood lunch staring out at the vastness of the Pacific Ocean before an expensive flight back to Santiago. Easter Island might be the second most remote place on earth but it certainly doesn’t feel like it with all the Moai for company. Go and meet them for yourself.