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Easter Island

Easter Island

The remote Pacific island remains home to odd statues but also offers an eco adventure.

 There?s getting away. And then there?s Rapa Nui. Some 2,200 miles west of South America, this near-barren, triangular speck of land -- better known as Easter Island?is the most remote inhabited island on earth. Of course, Easter Island is also akin to one big floating archaeological site.

Arrive by plane via Tahiti; Santiago, Chile (of which the island is a territory of); or Lima, Peru, and head five miles outside of Hanga Roa, the island?s only town, to bunker down at Explora Rapa Nui (Posada de Mike Rapu), a 30-room LEED-certified eco-outfitter that?s reminiscent of a luxury African safari lodge: exquisitely staffed, all-inclusive gourmet meals and wine. The TV-less rooms are a comfortable mélange of stained concrete and pine with natural fabrics and panoramic windows offering views of the Pacific from spacious soaking tubs. A pool and a Jacuzzi are available; as is a traditional "Hare Mahana Ora" sauna woven from local eucalyptus and fueled by lava rocks heated over an open fire. Fifteen different culture-rich guided treks include mountain biking, caving in lava tubes, sunrise horseback rides, and snorkeling with sea turtles and blowfish in seas with a dazzling clarity, up to 50 meters.

And, of course, there are the moai, Rapa Nui?s heady claim to popular imagination. With profiles familiar to Tiki drink aficionados, 887 of these giant stone statues (weighing on average 14 tons at 13 feet tall) dot the island and litter the shores, eerie sentinels to a lost past. Erected as a form of ancestor worship?and then toppled as society collapsed into cannibalism in the 15th century?everything standing today has been restored. The blank stares held eyeballs of alabaster coral and shimmering obsidian pupils, jarring details on the few that have been restored.

Absorb the immensity of the endeavor with a visit toRanu Raraku, where all moa were quarried from a single type of volcanic tuff before being moved as far as 14 miles. Many lie half-buried, in varying stages of being carved, practically yearning to be released from the rock, including "El Gigante" a beast of a statue that would have stood over 70 feet tall at over 145 tons if completed. Treks to other popular sites likeAhu Akivi ("The Seven"), Ahu Nau Nau amid the palms and white sands ofAnakena Beach, and the arresting gaze of the 15 largest atAhu Tongariki, are timed for maximum impact and a placid sense of awe.

?Nobody is quite sure why the project was abandoned -- civil war, famine brought on by deforestation, a crisis of faith, or all of the above? -- but out of the shambles of society, a new cult arose, based on physical and spiritual "mana."Ranu Kau is the largest of the main volcanoes, a.k.a. the "Birdman Crater." Named for the hyper-masculine power rite in which men skidded down the rocky cliffs, swam across churning sea to grab a Sooty Tern egg, raced back with it unbroken, the first one becoming the Birdman, or chief for the year -- virgin bride and private love-hut included. The ceremonial village ofOrongo, where the men waited in isolation before competing, is intact with ancient houses and scores of petroglyphs.

By the 1860s, the population was down to a mere 111 people, but today, about 2,300 Rapa Nui descendents remain, guarding their culture?and each other?closely. Everyone is somebody's cousin, literally. As such, more so than most of Polynesia, gayness isn?t an issue, a fact that makes it a popular post for the service industry of more-Catholic Chile and a boon for LGBT adventurers.

If you want to meet the locals, you need to say "Iorana" to chilled-out Hanga Roa. On the bustling side of languid with wet-suited surfers and townies doing their thing, score some woodcarvings at theHandicraft Market or traditional ink from Tito atMokomae Tattoo. Or just while away the breezy tropical afternoons in a palm-shaded outdoor caf? with a local Mahina beer. Nights belong to fresh fish dinners and dance performances, energetic and sweaty, skin-heavy affairs. Spend at least one evening lost in the surreally bright stars: pondering our own island in the breathtaking immenseness of the universe.
30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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