Spelunking

Easter Island: Mystery, Moai, Mountain Biking & More

“Mysterious:” the most common word used to describe the remote 63 square mile island of volcanic origin sitting alone in the vast South Pacific Ocean. A 2,400-mile flight from the nearest populated areas of Chile and Tahiti over the deepest, bluest water would arrive on the only runway of the Mataveri Airport. Discovered on Easter Sunday back in 1722 by Dutch explorers, Easter Island’s mystery still entices people today to not only explore its history, but to indulge in the outdoor activities that are available.

It is not the crystal clear ocean or the pristine white beaches that attract visitors like most Polynesian islands. Nor is it the volcanic craters or lava formations. It is the gigantic stone statues known as moai. The mystery of their origins still fascinates to this day even though the trade winds of time have eroded most of the coral eyes and statues details. There are about 900 moai throughout the island in various stages of completion, some sitting firmly on their ahu platforms while others still lay in transit near and in the Rano Raraku quarry where they were carved. Now, imagine the unique opportunity to do outdoor activities amongst these ancient monoliths.

For those who want to work up a sweat over the volcanic soil, there is mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding and caving. This triangular-shaped island is hilly and there are bike trails throughout that can take a few hours to all day to finish. The terrain, depending on difficulty, can range from all paved roads to a combination of paved and dirt to all soil roads. The south side will especially challenge cyclists with steep, winding roads.  Most of these trails are available to horseback riders as well.

The hiking routes guarantee passing in and around archeological sites and moai. The three extinct volcanoes, Poike, Rano Kau and Terevaka, supply the elevation for the island, which make for some great hiking. For example, one route starts in the main town of Hanga Roa, passes Ana Kai Tangata, the Cannibal Cave, and from there it is a steady upward climb to Orongo, the ancient ceremonial village. It ends at the 1,063 ft. peak of Rano Kau where the reward is a fresh water crater lake. The crater has its own microclimate and for the experienced hikers, a walk around the crater is a challenge with a shear 820 ft. drop from the razor edge cliff to the sea. A hike to Mount Terevaka, the tallest peak at 1,676 ft., goes along grassy slopes and has the best 360˚ panoramic views.

The volcanic eruptions of long ago created a labyrinth of underground caves. The underworld here is riddled with caves and tunnels and it is believed this is where the Rapa Nui people hid from slave traders during their darkest times. There are a few official caves and several unofficial ones that have small hidden entries, but open up to large, deep cave systems worth exploring.

The South Pacific Ocean beckons as well. Scuba diving, snorkeling and surfing can all be enjoyed here. The volcanic origins not only helped form the cave system, it also formed a remarkable topography underwater where coral and marine life thrive. The temperate waters surrounding Easter Island and Motu Iti, Motu Kao Kao, and Motu Nui (the three islets just off the coast), offer divers and snorkelers 164 ft. of visibility. With this type of clarity it is easy to observe the local inhabitants like blowfish, butterfly fish, the Mediterranean moray eel, porcupine fish, trumpet fish and sea turtles.

Due to its remoteness surfers get the pleasure of a certain calm and feeling of having the waves all to themselves. Hanga Rova cove is a great place for the novice surfer where the more experienced would be satisfied with the waves at Mataveri and Tahai.

The remoteness of Easter Island, plus its abundance of outdoor activities and geographical, historical and spiritual richness make it a quintessential location for those looking for an authentic adventure.