Easter Island — Overview
Considered the most remote of the world’s inhabited islands, Easter Island is a small, volcanic landmass in the South Pacific that has intrigued historians and travelers alike for centuries. The island is famous for its ‘Easter Island Heads’, large stone statues carved by islanders at least 400 years ago which look out at the endless expanse of ocean that separates the island from the rest of the world.
Easter Island’s isolation is mind-boggling. The nearest inhabited neighbor is Pitcairn Island, a similarly remote landmass at nearly 1,300 miles away to the west that is home to just 100 people. Although the island belongs to Chile, its South American neighbor is a staggering 2,200 miles away, and culturally Easter Island is more closely tied to the rest of Polynesia than it is to South America. The official languages are Rapa Nui, an eastern Polynesian tongue, and Spanish, an import from Chile.
Historically, Easter Island has confounded scientists for decades, and little is known with precise detail. The statues themselves are thought to date from between 1100 AD and 1680 AD, and it was only recently established that the first settlers came from the west and not from the east as previously thought. What followed is a patched together history of war, epidemics, food shortages and deforestation largely caused by intermittent invasions and colonial rule.
Complete isolation combined with a sense of mystery, no better represented than by the rows of statues that line its shores, have made Easter Island an attractive destination for travelers looking to get off the beaten track. The statues themselves, known as moai, are the main draw. These huge blocks of rock represent key ancestors from the local community which would typically take a team of about five people up to a year to carve.
Two volcanic craters, Rano Raraku and Rano Kau, were the main sources for the rock, and today it is still possible to see partially carved statues that were never finished within their craters. Like any remote Pacific island worth its salt, Easter Island features a handful of stunning, white sandy beaches and good conditions for surfing. Less than a mile off the coast are a number of islets which are popular for scuba diving and snorkeling.
The capital, Hanga Roa, to the south, is little more than a collection of houses, shops and a few other commercial premises built around a port. Although small, this quiet little town offers an intriguing insight into the way of life here with its collection of stores, hotels and restaurants.
The people, a mixture of Polynesians, Chileans of European descent and native South Americans, remain friendly and wary of outsiders in equal measure. Their traditions are openly on display as part of the popular dance shows performed for tourists, but for a more authentic insight to the local way of life can possibly be gained by simply striking up conversation with the locals over a glass of the local drink, pisco.