It’s dawn and I’m picking my way across a field in the dark, trying hard not to step in the dried up piles of horse manure or trip over on the rocky ground. I’m a good half an hour from the nearest town and the only light is from the weak beam of my pathetic torch, but still I don’t turn back.
Watch the sun rise behind the Easter Island Statues
The reason lies in front of me, on the far side of the field. Fifteen reasons to be precise, for I’m here to watch the sun rise behind the fifteen moai at Tongariki, on Easter Island‘s north east coast, the largest ceremonial structure anywhere in Polynesia. It’s not surprising, therefore, that I’m not alone and a small crowd has gathered. Some fiddle behind tripods, others wait patiently to see it with their eyes rather than through a camera lens. When the sun comes up, the instantly recognisable shapes of the stones of the Easter Island statues or moai are illuminated with a soft yellow light and the scene is set for one of the trip’s most unforgettable experiences.
There are many more moai to discover across this tiny Pacific island, known as Rapa Nui to those whose ancestors called it home. To the north lies Anakena, one of only two sandy beaches on the island and fringed with palm trees imported from Tahiti. Seven moai in varying states of completeness, some with red topknots, stand next to a beach perfect for a picnic and a refreshing swim in the sheltered horseshoe-shaped bay. Inland, the five moai at Akivi are unusual in that they gaze out to sea, as most of these iconic Easter Island statues look inwards. A visit to the quarry at Rano Raraku helps me to unravel some of the mystery surrounding the stones. Almost four hundred moai in varying states of completion can be found here, some standing like watchmen on the slopes while others lie half carved, still attached to the rock face.
Visit a volcano
Back in the south of the island, a visit to the volcanic crater of Rano Kau is an unmissable excursion. The steep sides of the volcano are now verdant in luminous shades of emerald and lime, the lake that fills the hollow a patchwork of lily pads and reeds and ultramarine water. It’s a breathtaking sight. A short walk leads to the ceremonial village of Orongo where squat circular homes, once inhabited, now create a unique sight on the top of the cliff. Every September until 1867, this was the setting for the Birdman Competition where participants raced to bring back eggs from the nearby motu or islet.
Other things to do on Easter Island
You might expect Easter Island, the second most remote island in the world, to feel isolated, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a direct five hour flight from the Chilean capital Santiago into the laid back town of Hanga Roa where accommodation is plentiful and there are plenty of oceanfront restaurants from which to watch the sun set over the ocean. The sloping grass above Ahu Tahai gradually fills with couples and families waiting to see the sun slide into the sea behind the five moai that form one of the island’s best known images, the Easter Island statues, their shapes silhouetted against a glorious blood orange backdrop.
As dusk falls, the procession of tourists join the island’s inhabitants to head back down to the town. The Rapanui are hospitable and generous, taking obvious pleasure in sharing their island with those that have travelled such a long distance to visit. It will have been the moai that have drawn you to the Easter Island statues, but it will be the warmth of the people that makes it such a wrench to leave.