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Easter Island – Orongo Village, Moai Statues, Beaches

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If you are looking for adventure travel then consider Easter Island.

Easter Island, affectionately known as the “Navel of the World,” is a remote, enchanting speck of land smack-dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. So, if you’ve ever dreamed of getting away from it all, this Chilean territory might just be the perfect destination for you. Be warned, though: you might develop an irresistible urge to take selfies with gigantic stone heads!

Home to the iconic moai statues, which are basically ancient, oversized bobbleheads without the bobble, Easter Island has a mysterious and intriguing history. The Rapa Nui people, who were apparently masters of both navigation and carving, settled the island around 800-1200 AD. The purpose of these statues is still debated, but one thing is for sure: the moai are the island’s original rock stars.

Now, for some travel advice. There’s no better way to explore the island’s hidden gems (or should we say, heads?) than by renting a bike or scooter, so you can ride around like an ancient Rapa Nui chieftain. Be sure to visit Rano Raraku, the moai nursery, where you can witness these stone giants in various stages of completion. It’s like a maternity ward for statues!

While you’re there, don’t miss the Rano Kau volcano, which offers breathtaking views and a chance to ponder how on earth these massive sculptures were transported across the island without the help of modern machinery. If you’re in need of some beach time, Anakena Beach is the place to be. It’s not every day you can sunbathe with a row of moai keeping you company!

 

Orongo Village

Orongo Village, located on the rim of the Rano Kau volcano on Easter Island, is a placewhere history, culture, and breathtaking views come together in perfect harmony – or should we say, “egg-squisite” harmony? This fascinating site is renowned for its connection to the Birdman cult and the nail-biting annual Birdman competition, which unfolded during the 18th and 19th centuries.

You might wonder why we’re cracking egg puns. Well, the Birdman competition was no yolk! It involved daring representatives from various tribes swimming through shark-infested waters to the nearby islet of Motu Nui. Their mission? To retrieve the first sooty tern egg of the season and bring it back to Orongo Village in one piece. The winning contestant’s tribe would rule the roost for the year, controlling the island’s resources and decision-making. The victor would also gain sacred status, making them quite the “egg-spert” in their community.

The village itself is home to around 54 oval-shaped stone houses, which look like they’ve been laid by giant hens! Built with overlapping basalt slabs and featuring low entrances, these houses were used as temporary dwellings during the Birdman competition. Many have been restored to give visitors a glimpse into the unique architectural style of this period in Rapa Nui history.

Orongo Village also boasts an impressive collection of petroglyphs that will have you squawking with delight. Depicting various symbols and figures associated with the Birdman cult, these carvings include the birdman, the god Make-Make, and stylized images of sooty terns. The petroglyphs are an essential expression of the Rapa Nui’s artistic and cultural heritage during the Birdman era.

Visiting Orongo Village offers travelers a chance to explore the egg-citing history of Easter Island, marvel at the ancient village ruins, and enjoy some truly spectacular views. The site is part of the Rapa Nui National Park and can be reached by car or as part of a guided tour.

 

Moai statues

Easter Island, the land of “Hey, what’s up with those giant stone heads?” is home to the enigmatic and iconic moai statues. These magnificent megalithic marvels were created by the Rapa Nui people, who inhabited the island between 800-1200 AD, and they’ve been turning heads ever since – well, figuratively, at least, as the moai themselves are pretty stationary.

Let’s talk dimensions. The moai statues are no slouches when it comes to size, with the largest ones towering up to 33 feet (10 meters) tall and weighing a whopping 80 tons. That’s like stacking 10 full-grown elephants on top of each other – talk about a balancing act! In total, there are around 900 moai scattered across the island, each sporting their own unique, stoic expression.

These colossal creations were mostly chiseled out of volcanic tuff found at the Rano Raraku quarry, which could be considered the “moai daycare center,” as it’s where they were “born” and nurtured until they reached their final, gargantuan form. Some moai also rock stylish “topknots” or “hats” called pukao, carved from a different type of stone to give them that extra oomph.

Now, you might be wondering, “What’s the deal with these giant stone faces?” The exact purpose of the moai is still a subject of debate among scholars. However, it’s widely believed that these statues were erected to honor ancestors, chiefs, or other VIPs in Rapa Nui society. The moai were strategically placed around the island on raised platforms called ahu, and they faced inland as if to say, “Hey, we’re watching over you, so you better behave!”

The transportation and erection of these behemoth beauties remain an intriguing mystery. Theories abound, with some suggesting wooden sleds or rollers, while others propose a “walking” method that involved rocking the statues back and forth – sort of like an ancient hokey pokey. Regardless of the method, it’s undeniable that creating and moving these moai was a monumental task that showcased the Rapa Nui’s incredible skill, organization, and sheer determination.

I spent several days exploring the island and learning about the history of the Moai statues. I visited various sites, including the famous Rano Raraku quarry, where the statues were carved. It was fascinating to see the different stages of the carving process and to learn about the symbolism behind the statues.

One of the most interesting things I learned was that the Moai statues were not just works of art, but also served as a way for the island’s inhabitants to honor their ancestors. Each statue was believed to represent a specific ancestor, and the statues were placed facing inland to watch over and protect the island’s inhabitants.

Beaches

  1. Anakena Beach: Anakena is Easter Island’s most famous beach and a must-see for any visitor. This idyllic spot features soft, white coral sand, swaying palm trees, and inviting turquoise waters that are perfect for swimming, snorkeling, or just lounging around. Anakena Beach is not only a tropical paradise but also a site of historical and cultural significance. It is believed to be the landing place of the island’s first Polynesian settlers, led by King Hotu Matu’a. At the northern end of the beach, you’ll find Ahu Nau Nau, a restored platform featuring seven moai statues, some of which are adorned with red topknots called pukao.
  2. Ovahe Beach: Ovahe is a smaller, secluded beach located near Anakena on the northeastern coast of Easter Island. Surrounded by dramatic cliffs, this beach has a more rugged, untouched feel, with its reddish-pink sand and crystal-clear waters. Ovahe is a great spot for those seeking tranquility and a more off-the-beaten-path experience. However, swimming is not always recommended due to strong currents and underwater rocks.

 

Weather

  1. Summer (December to February): During the summer months, Easter Island enjoys warm temperatures with highs averaging around 79°F (26°C) and lows around 68°F (20°C). This is also the wettest season, with occasional short-lived rain showers. Despite the rain, summer is considered the high tourist season due to the warm weather and a number of cultural events, including the Tapati Rapa Nui Festival in February.
  2. Fall (March to May): Fall on Easter Island brings slightly cooler temperatures and decreased rainfall. Highs during this time range from 73°F to 79°F (23°C to 26°C), while lows can drop to around 64°F (18°C).
  3. Winter (June to August): Winter is the coolest and driest season on Easter Island, with average high temperatures ranging from 68°F to 71°F (20°C to 22°C) and lows around 59°F to 61°F (15°C to 16°C). While it’s not as warm as the summer months, the weather is still mild compared to many other destinations during winter.
  4. Spring (September to November): Spring on Easter Island features gradually warming temperatures and increasing rainfall. Highs during this season range from 68°F to 75°F (20°C to 24°C), and lows hover around 59°F to 64°F (15°C to 18°C).

 

How to get here

  1. By air: The primary and most convenient way to reach Easter Island is by air. Mataveri International Airport (IPC), located near Hanga Roa, the island’s main town, is the only airport on Easter Island. There are two main flight routes:
  • From Santiago, Chile: LATAM Airlines operates regular flights between Santiago (SCL) and Easter Island (IPC). The flight duration is approximately 5.5 hours. This is the most common route for travelers coming from outside South America, as they can fly into Santiago and then take a connecting flight to Easter Island.
  • From Tahiti, French Polynesia: There are also occasional flights between Papeete, Tahiti (PPT), and Easter Island (IPC), usually operated by LATAM Airlines. The flight duration is around 5 hours. This route allows travelers to combine a visit to Easter Island with a trip to other destinations in the South Pacific.
  1. By sea: While it is rare, some travelers choose to visit Easter Island as part of a cruise or on a private yacht. Several cruise lines offer South Pacific itineraries that include a stopover at Easter Island, but these are generally longer and more expensive trips. If you’re an experienced sailor or have access to a private yacht, you could also sail to Easter Island, but be prepared for a long and challenging journey, as the island is extremely remote and exposed to changeable weather conditions.

 

Q: Can I challenge a Moai statue to a staring contest? Do they ever blink?

A: A staring contest with a Moai statue? Now that would be an epic showdown! However, it’s safe to say that you won’t need to worry about them blinking. These stone figures have mastered the art of maintaining a steady gaze for centuries. So, go ahead, give it your best shot, but be prepared for an unblinking opponent who has had plenty of time to perfect their stare.

Q: Can I borrow a Moai statue to use as a lawn ornament? I promise to return it after my neighbors are thoroughly impressed!

A: As much as we’d love to see your neighbors’ reaction to an impressive Moai statue in your yard, borrowing one might not be the best idea. The Moai statues are not only precious cultural artifacts but also quite heavy. Transporting them would be quite the challenge, and your neighbors might appreciate the uniqueness of a more manageable lawn ornament instead. However, feel free to recreate their spirit by crafting your own mini Moai masterpiece!

Q: Are the beaches on Easter Island guarded by Moai lifeguards? Do they offer swimming lessons too?

A: While the Moai statues possess an air of majesty and wisdom, they have yet to master the art of lifeguarding. You won’t find them patrolling the beaches or offering swimming lessons. However, they do provide a unique and awe-inspiring backdrop for your beachside adventures. Just remember to keep an eye out for the occasional mischievous seagull trying to snatch your snacks – the Moai can’t protect your picnic all the time!

Q: Did the Rapa Nui people have a secret competition for creating the silliest Moai statue? I’ve seen some pretty interesting facial expressions!

A: The Rapa Nui people were undoubtedly talented craftsmen, but they were also known for their serious dedication to honoring their ancestors. While some Moai statues may seem to have amusing or peculiar facial expressions, it’s more likely due to variations in artistic styles and regional influences. But hey, art is subjective, so feel free to interpret those unique expressions in any way that brings a smile to your face!

Q: What’s so special about Orongo Village on Easter Island? A: Orongo Village is like an outdoor history museum – no velvet ropes here! It was the center of the Birdman Cult and features about 50 oval stone houses overlooking the sea. From here, you get a stunning view of the three motus (small islands) where the birdman competition took place.

Q: Birdman competition? Do tell more! A: This was the Ironman of its day! Every year, competitors from each clan would scramble down the sheer cliffs of Orongo, swim to the Motu Nui island, and wait for the Sooty Terns to lay their first egg of the season. The first one to bring back an egg (intact!) was declared the winner. Triathlon, what?

Q: What are the Moai statues? A: Picture this: enormous stone heads gazing out over the island, each carved from a single piece of rock. That’s a Moai! They’re like the island’s personal welcoming committee. These iconic statues were created by the Rapa Nui people and are an impressive testament to their craftsmanship and organization.

Q: Why were the Moai statues made? A: The exact reasons are lost to history, but it’s believed that the statues were carved in honor of important ancestors and chiefs. So, they’re like giant, ancient Oscars – but without the yearly ceremony.

Q: What beaches can I visit on Easter Island? A: Despite being a remote volcanic island, Easter Island has some lovely beaches. Anakena Beach, with its white coral sand, palm trees, and welcoming Moai, is a top spot for a relaxing day. Ovahe Beach is another beautiful, albeit less frequented option. Just remember, the Moai like their privacy, so no climbing!

Q: Is it safe to swim on the beaches? A: Swimming is generally safe at Anakena and Ovahe beaches. But remember, you’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so always pay attention to the conditions and respect the power of nature. In other words, try not to recreate scenes from Baywatch.

Q: What’s the best time to visit Easter Island? A: Easter Island has a subtropical climate, so it’s possible to visit all year round. But the most popular time is during the summer (December to March) when the Tapati Rapa Nui Festival takes place. It’s like Burning Man meets ancient Polynesian culture, minus the desert.