* WARNING: This post is a bit of a behemoth (I probably should have presented it in multiple parts, but oh well…). Prepare yourself a hot drink, or if you get sick of the drivel I’ve written, simply scroll through the pictures. I think it’s worth that at least!
Days: 326-330 (17 May 2015 – 21 May 2015)
Total distance travelled: 69,960.46 kilometres (43,453.7 miles)
How about Rapa Nui or Easter Island?
To spice things up a little, we decided to jump aboard a flight to the worlds most remote airport (the nearest place you can fly to from there at 2,603 kilometres is not in fact Santiago, but the Gambier Islands in French Polynesia), some 3,759 kilometres away and deep into the South Pacific.
After enjoying the fruits that LAN airways had to offer (although being a morning flight, we were booze free for the five hours we were in the air), time in which we managed to each knock over a couple of movies, we touched down at Aeropuerto Mataveri.
Oddly enough, by touching down on this remote Pacific island, we had actually brought ourselves the closest we’d been to home (if roughly 9,450 kilometres is close) in the 326 days that had passed since we’d left Melbourne.
First impressions weren’t exactly of the tropical island we’d expected, but this was due primarily to the overcast sky which didn’t allow the colour of the lush, green surrounds to truly pop!
Now we were trying to do this place on as much of a budget as possible, which is never likely to be easy when you’ve got to have a huge amount of the islands needs flown in from the Chilean mainland.
We thought we’d gotten very lucky finding an absolute budget location to stay at $10.00 US each a night, but in truth didn’t really expect much from it (hey, a bed’s a bed).
The surprise was truly ours when we made our way through the presently non-existent airport security (we simply had to wait for our packs), when there waiting with both a sign and some freshly made lei’s stood our host!
Now before you think we’re trying to bed some gorgeous locals, note that I didn’t spell it L-A-Y.
Think more along the lines of the grass skirts, coconut shell bikini and ukelele music kind of lei (although you can drop the music, grass skirt and bikini and replace it with blue jeans and a t-shirt).
Less than five minutes later, with a minute or more of that time waiting to exit the airport car-park, we were at our accommodation ready to chuck our bags into our tent.
That’s right, you read correctly, our home for four nights was to be four flapping walls… some sort of perfect symmetry there!
What this image doesn’t show, is the wonderful onsite toilets/showers, or the communal kitchen-dining area (seriously, no sarcasm here) which made this place great.
Now it was time for lunch, but eager to explore the small town that is Hanga Roa (the only township on the island and home to most of its population), we decided not to self cater, instead strolling down towards the nearby waterfront and harbour.
We’d been given word on how expensive food can be on this remote speck in the Pacific, however our first and biggest struggle was to find somewhere that was actually open!
The issue was finally settled with some huge, pretty tasty and also reasonably priced empanadas. I went local with a tuna, cheese and tomato number, whilst Sarah was initially thrilled to find fresh mushrooms in hers (accompanied by cheese and corn).
With their decent size, one was certainly meal enough.
With renewed energy, we took our explorations further afield, thrilled to spy our first Moai in the heart of town, before wandering a little further up the coast.
The grey day and choppy seas added to the remote, almost wild feel, so it was an invigorating stroll along this small section of the islands northern shore.
The coast was jumble of volcano formed black rock, this island by all accounts sporting only one strip of sand that could legitimately be called a beach… not that the weather was doing much to entice us into the water in any case.
Ridiculously close to the town sits Tahai, a Moai site that does not sit within the bounds of the UNESCO World Heritage listed, Rapa Nui National Park, and by close, I mean perhaps ten minutes from the main harbour, so therefore only twenty minutes from where we were staying!
Closer to town, we watched the local surfers do their thing (apparently this is also a bucket list destination for surfers, due to its remoteness), the waves regular, if not huge.
With our prospects of catching a sunset slim, we decided to call time for the day, and made our way back to our hostel via one of the local supermarkets.
This was largely in search of some beers to relax with, as well as some options for breakfast as we’d actually brought some food with us from the mainland (having learned that this was not a problem and that island costs were high).
The morning saw us meet the Sun for the first time since our arrival on the island, although there was cloud and breeze enough to ensure that it (the temperature) certainly remained on the cooler side.
We essentially retraced our steps after a breakfasting on yoghurt, bread and jam and a sneaky couple of chocolate coated alfajores I’d grabbed at a local bakery, hopeful that the slightly brighter day would present the Moai of Tahai in a somewhat better light.
Despite us landing aboard a full aeroplane, we’d not seen too many other tourists about and the trend for this morning continued no differently.
As such, we wandered along the still seemingly and untamed cliffs, having the place pretty much to ourselves, and indeed the features of the Moai were certainly more distinguishable with the addition of a little sun.
After exploring the former village site of Te Peru, complete with our first toppled Moai, our path finally took us inland, although our emergence from the village left us a little puzzled as there lay a bright red backpack, an object that had not been present when we’d entered ten minutes earlier.
The mystery was solved another ten minutes later as a cyclist (part of a 5 person posse we’d spied in the distance) came hurtling towards us. He was very relieved when we confirmed that we’d spied it, having apparently been forgotten in their haste to continue on.
We caught the rest of his cycling party not far ahead, patiently waiting at Ana Te Pahu. This years (I’m talking years in the hundreds or possibly thousands) old lava tube was apparently in important ceremonial site, serving as a natural crypt for the former peoples dead.
We probably emerged a few minutes too soon, as shortly after leaving the underground shelter that the lava tubes of Ana Te Pahu provided, we were victims of the elements, a rather heavy shower seeing us damp in little time at all.
Thankfully it passed as quickly as it had appeared, and the re-emerged Sun quickly made things steamy indeed.
It wasn’t long before the red earth road we’d been walking on (which after the rains, had clung to our flip-flops like super glue) met a beautiful tarmac road.
Whilst the change was welcomed, it did present us with a bit of conundrum.
Which way to go?
Our map was a little vague at this point, but with some more of the ridiculous dumb luck (I mean my incredible direction nous) we’d been favoured with in the past, we chose correctly and within literally two minutes we’d found our goal, Akivi, one of the most famous of the Easter Island Moai sites.
We managed to earn the good natured wrath of a worker by entering over a fence where the road seemingly entered, but after climbing back over this stone wall (yes, he made us go back the way we came), we were free to explore.
The several minute delay in fact serving us well, as the lone group of tourists already present had by this time departed in their van, leaving us with the place to ourselves!
It is incredible to think that the small area we’d explored (we ultimately walked 16 kilometres) had not seen us enter the Rapa Nui National Park.
This we left for the following day, an excursion we opted to do independently, hiring a car that afternoon for collection the following morning.
After checking in with a couple of tour operators, we opted to travel the island in the reverse direction to the tours, hopefully therefore limiting our arrival at the various sites, at the same time as the larger groups.
We’d also had word that there is presently a conflict between the local populace and CONAF, the organisation that administers the nations various national parks.
The peoples of Easter Island have concerns that none of the revenue is re-invested into the island (instead, it all heads to the mainland), so as such, when we reached the park entrance point, they were simply now refusing to collect the entrance fee!
With that saving to our hip pocket, it was onwards to Anakena, famously the only stretch of sand worthy of being named a beach on whole island.
Presented with such a beautiful setting, it seemed only right that we took the time to indulge in another chocolate coated alfajor, of course this was a reward that we kept until after we’d explored our surrounds a little.
To finally see swaying palms (although with the decent winds, sway is probably not the most apt term) and a sand beach finally made it feel like we were in the depths of the pacific, however the aforementioned winds meaning it was in fact much more pleasant to eat our chocolate, dulce de leche filled treats from inside the comfort of our hire car.
A short ride further along the coast sat Te Pito Kura, site of another long toppled Moai.
This isn’t just any old site, as in its pomp, Te Pito Kura has the distinction of being the largest Moai ever erected on the island.
Legend has it, the erection was made at the request of an old widow to honour her late husband… well so said the plaque!
This quiet stretch of road presented us with many worthy stops, one of these notable enough for the fact that it wasn’t simply another collection of Moai.
Here at Papa Vaka, we were instead presented with artistic talent directed in a different direction, rock carvings.
The site itself felt a little neglected (signs were cracked and paths were worn), but at least the grass was kept relatively short…
Still some of the carvings were pretty impressive, and the adjacent interpretation boards helped us make sense of some of the more obscure shapes and squiggles.
Our road now lead us away from the coast, dissecting the island along a road fringed in brilliant green and yellow (huge swathes of flowers, not the sun) before again hitting the waves of the Pacific on the islands South-East corner (popular for sunrises apparently).
We were obviously well outside the time in which sunrise would have occurred (given the again cloudy sky above, we’re not sure if we missed anything), but it was a pretty cool spot to take in the wild ocean and it’s empty, rocky shore.
Only metres away from where we sat, watching the pounding surf (okay, probably a couple of hundred metres), was our next destination, Ahu Tongariki.
This, the most impressive of all the standing Moai sites, has only in fact been this way for the past twenty or so years, it’s Moai in fact long toppled during the islands civil wars of the past, with the statues themselves even swept inland by a Tsunami back in the 1960’s!
It was only in the 1990’s that efforts were made to re-erect these colossal figures, their positioning such that they face the setting sun.
We thought it wasn’t the worst place on the island to also take a little time out for our lunch (consumed in the hire car of course).
After wiping the crumbs off our laps (yes, probably onto the hire car floor), it was goodbye to these impressive monoliths, and on to the other of the parks most famous sites.
Again, only minutes from where we’d just been, we now found ourselves at Rano Raraku, both volcano and former quarry which share the same name.
It was here that we were also presented with the closest thing that resembled a crowd for the day… which is why we opted for the volcano first, as it seemed to be attracting nobody!
Not presenting us with a challenging climb, with its well eroded entrance not particularly high, we entered the caldera within which sat both a lovely wetland, as well as a few watchful Moai, making sure we’d have no chance of forgetting where we were.
After taking in the scenery, it was back out to the main attraction, a well trodden path leading us towards the volcano’s grassy outer slopes, and the former quarry.
It’s hard to explain this place… I could use a ton of complementary words or expletives, but that would be self indulgent. Instead, I’ll simply mention that we were pretty awestruck.
I feel it’s easier to illustrate with a handful of my favourite photos, instead of trying to do it justice with words, when it’s very likely I’ll simply fail.
It was an easy place to wander for a long while, for us, easily the most impressive indigenous site on Easter Island, and as such we devoted our attention on it accordingly.
Having earlier said that the site was busier, by no means suggests it was truly overrun with tourists, rather it simply meant there was the odd occasion we ran into them, or had to perhaps wait a few moments for a photo opportunity, rather then shoot at will…
All good things must come to an end, so it was some difficulty that we finally dragged ourselves away from what we felt was an incredible place.
Still, we found plenty of ways to helps ourselves move on, as the islands southern coast proved as lively as its north.
Huge waves crashed along its craggy shores, and at various points sat collections of long fallen Moai, their toppled Pukao (stone hats said to represent a chieftains headdress) a contrasting red to the darker stone of the figures themselves.
We stopped at several, as well as took time out to simply absorb the vastness of the ocean before us, then it was time to return to town, our self guided exploration of the island complete.
Back in town, we returned our wheels, then set about hunting down a nice eating establishment.
It’s not that we were famished, in fact far from it.
We had however decided we’d splurge and indulge in one nice meal (by nice I guess we meant expensive) whilst on the island.
Finding our prey was simple, so it was a simple of matter of then trying to make ourselves look somewhat presentable in a crumpled shirt and slightly dirty jeans.
We needn’t have bothered, but hey it’s the thought that counts!
A delicious meal was had in a lovely ocean-front setting, others even seated under the stars with a gorgeous fire (and certainly wine) to keep the chills at bay.
Okay, so my words don’t sound completely chronologically correct, as it was the following night in which we dined out, but this, our penultimate day, was relatively quiet.
We’d planned on partaking in a dive whilst on the island (that of the SCUBA kind), however the conditions were too rough the entire time, thwarting any such plans…
We woke on our final morning with a plan, and that was to climb the Rano Kau volcano, situated relatively close to town.
The only catch was, we had to check-out by 11am… apparently it is at least a 2 hour round trip… and we finally got underway at half past 9…
Fair to say we started at a fair click, and in reasonable time got to the scrubby slope.
Here we began our ascent, continuing at a good pace, until suddenly, the path simply stopped!
All around us, but for the way we’d come, was thick vegetation.
Confused and a little deflated, we began to walk back, suddenly spotting a branch from this main, broad path, complete with felled sign (which would have directed us in this correct direction)!
Back on course, it was onwards and upwards, this narrower path offering us plenty of wet vegetation on which we would constantly brush against, making our feet and clothing fairly wet in short time.
But apparently this wasn’t sufficient, so then it began to rain!
By the time we made it to the heights of the volcano, it was well and truly wet… but at least it was a decent view and we were incredibly, ahead of the tight schedule we’d set ourselves.
The wet also served us well in that after taking in the views of the caldera and town from above, we had little interest in lingering without shelter, so we began the trek back down the slope, the now wet earth, again clinging to our flip-flops (yes, we had our ‘hiking’ shoes back out for this endeavor) like glue.
Still, it wasn’t the worst way to finish our time on Isla de Pascua, a place well removed from much of the world, but one that we thoroughly loved!
* Our flights with LAN cost us $685,636.00 pesos (roughly $1,350.00 Australian) return from Santiago de Chile to Hanga Roa (Easter Island).
* To get to Santiago’s airport, we took an airport bus which cost us $1,500.00 pesos per person, one way.
* Entrance into the Parque Nacional Rapa Nui usually costs $30,000.00 pesos per person, but for our time in the island, it was FREE!