Ask me which Pacific island has the most to supply hikers and I’ll probably answer Easter Island. Here on an island 11 km wide and 23 km long you’ll find nearly a thousand ancient Polynesian statues strewn along a powerfully beautiful coastline or littering the slopes of an extinct volcano.
The legends of Easter Island have been recounted many times. What’s less known is that the island’s assorted wonders are easily accessible on foot from the comfort of the only settlement, Hanga Roa.
Before setting out see the sights, however, visit the wonderful archaeological museum next to Ahu Tahai on the north side of town (the term “ahu” refers to an ancient stone platform). Aside from the exhibits, the museum has maps which might show you how to plan your trip.
The first morning after arrival, I suggest you climb Easter Island’s most spectacular volcano, Rano Kau, where Orongo, a serious archaeological site, sits on the crater’s rim. But rather than marching straight up the principle road to the crater, look for the unmarked shortcut trail off a driveway to the suitable just past the forestry station south of town. It takes under two hours to cover the six km from Hanga Roa to Orongo, but bring along a picnic lunch and make a day of it. (If climbing a 316-meter hill sounds daunting, you possibly can take a taxi to the summit for around US$6 and simply walk back later within the day.) Once on top, you will find hiking down into the colourful crater presents no difficulty. It can also look easy to go right across the crater rim, but only accomplish that if you are a really experienced hiker and have a companion along as shear 250-meter cliffs drop into the sea from the ridge.
Another day, rise early and take a taxi to lovely Anakena Beach at the tip of the paved road on the north side of the island (it is best to pay under US$10 for the 20 km). Just a few of the famous Easter Island statues have been restored at Anakena and you can go for a swim, although the principle reason you’ve come is the prospect to trek back to Hanga Roa across the road-free northwest corner of the island. You’ll pass numerous abandoned statues lying facedown where they fell, and the only living creatures you’re unlikely to encounter are the small brown hawks which will watch you intently from perches on nearby rocks. If you retain moving, you will arrive back in town in five or six hours (but take adequate food, water, and sunscreen). This is probably the finest coastal walk within the South Pacific.
Almost as good is the hike along the south coast, although you are bound to run into other tourists here as a paved highway follows the shore. Begin early and catch a taxi to Rano Raraku, the stone quarry where all the island’s statues were born. This is well the island’s most spectacular sight with 397 statues in various stages of completion lying scattered across the crater. And every day large tour groups come to Rano Raraku to sightsee and have lunch. However, in the event you arrive before 9 am, you will have the positioning to yourself for a couple of hours. While you see the primary tour buses headed your way, hike all the way down to Ahu Tongariki on the coast, where 15 massive statues were reerected in 1994. From here, just start walking back toward Hanga Roa (20 km) along the south coast. You’ll pass many fallen statues and enjoy some superb scenery. Whenever you get tired, simply go up onto the highway and stick out your thumb and you will be back in town in a jiffy.
An outstanding 13-km walk begins at the museum and follows the west coast five km north to Ahu Tepeu. As elsewhere, keep your eyes pealed for banana trees growing out of the barren rocks as these often indicate caves you possibly can explore. Inland from Ahu Tepeu is among the island’s most photographed sites, Ahu Akivi, with seven statues restored in 1960. From here an interior farm road runs straight back to town (study the maps on the museum carefully, as you will go far out of your way in the event you choose the wrong road here).
A shorter hike takes you up Puna Pau, a smaller crater which provided stone for the red topknots that originally crowned the island’s statues. There’s a fantastic view of Hanga Roa from the three crosses on an adjacent hill and you’ll easily do it all in half a day. A unique walk takes you right around the three,353-meter airport runway, which crosses the island just south of town. Near the east end of the runway is Ahu Vinapu with perfectly fitted monolithic stonework bearing an uncanny resemblance to similar constructions in Peru.
Easter Island’s moderate climate and scant vegetation make for simple cross country hiking, and you won’t find yourself blocked by fences and private property signs very often. You may also tour the island by mountain bike, available from several locations at US$10 a day. For those who surf or scuba dive, there are many opportunities here. A minimum of five days are needed to see the principle sights of Easter Island, and two weeks can be far better. The number of things to see and do will surprise you, and you’ll be blessed with some unforgettable memories.