Rapa Nui Multimedia

The New York Times has a nice multimedia piece up this afternoon about the danger faced by the moais, those enigmatic statues on Easter Island, known locally as Rapa Nui.

Check it out and then explore more photos from the island at EarthPhotos.com. Here are a few:

Island Transport


Only Known Authentic Moai Eye, in the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum near Hanga Roa


Anakena Beach and Ahu Nau Nau



And here are twenty entries, photos and stories from our visit to Rapa Nui.



Rapa Nui

Travel due west from Easter Island, dodge a Tahitian Island or two, and you’ll come ashore in the northern Brisbane suburbs. Head east and you’re in Chile. Sail south to Antarctica? The forbidding Cape Herlacher on the Amundsen Sea. Set out northbound – a long, long way – and you’ll land on the tip of Baja California.

Easter Island, brochure-writers say, is the most remote inhabited spot on the planet. That’s not really true, and all the islands are remote out here. For example, Easter Island’s nearest inhabited neighbor, Pitcairn Island, is 1300 miles west and home to 42.

There is a spot in the Indian Ocean more remote than either of these mere motes, a place claimed by France called Kerguelen Island, but it has no permanent residents, only scientists.

In fact, the remotest inhabited island in the world is Tristan da Cunha, a surely inbred place with a population of about 270, in the South Atlantic Ocean, 1,750 miles from South Africa. Supply boats from South Africa sail there less than once a month. In bountiful contrast, cruises stop at Easter Island and there are daily flights.

Since there is no airport at Tristan de Cunha, Easter Island claims the prize for most remote airport in the world. Mataveri Airport is 2,336 miles from Santiago, from which there are scheduled flights, and 1,617 miles from Mangareva in the Gambier Islands, where there are none.

The flight out takes about 3-1/2 hours. The airport at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station commands a crossroads by comparison, a mere 842 miles from Williams Field, which serves the U.S. McMurdo Station and New Zealand’s Scott Base in Antarctica.

Stand down by the shore in Miraflores, the fancy shopping suburb of Lima, Peru, and look west. Amid the children and the frisbees and the noise, and coastal Peru’s bewildering garúa and the unmuffled engines, it is hard to get an idea what the remoteness of Easter Island feels like. How the isolation seeps into your thinking. How it makes you different. It is a fundamental feature of Rapa Nui.

The more I learn, the more I understand Easter Island really is a mysterious place, having confounded just about everybody since 1722, the date of the first known non-Polynesian contact. Everybody has theories about Rapa Nui, and nobody really knows, so you might as well develop your own theories too. Why not?

There are multiple mysteries. First the huge statues, called moai. How and why did the islanders move them from quarry to perch?

There is the question of the society’s apparent collapse. Some would have us believe the islanders were dim enough to cut down their very last tree, but I am skeptical. Or was it European contact and the diseases that unleashed?

At least the question of how Rapa Nui was originally colonized seems to have been answered. Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl pointed to the Incas and Spaniards via Peru. The Swiss author Erich von Daniken put it all down to spacemen. That nutty old Daily Mail even fingered the diabolical sweet potato.

Clearer heads traced the larger colonization patterns of Polynesia, sometimes via pottery, back to today’s Papua New Guinea via the Solomon Islands. The distance between the Solomon Islands and Easter Island, though, is some 6000 miles. How long did it take? Even learned guesses range across more than five hundred years.

A British archaeologist who lived on the island in 1914-15 named Katherine Routledge wrote that it “bears no resemblance to the ideal lotus-eating lands of the Pacific; rather, with its bleak, grass grown surface, its wild rocks and restless ocean, it recalls some of the Scilly Islands or the coast of Cornwall. It is not a beautiful country or even a striking one, but it has a fascination of its own.”

In the end, it’s hard to get a non-academic feel for the place from home. Unless you go, it’s all just words in books. They say the tallest moai weighed 82 tons and the heaviest weighed 86. My horse-trailer-pulling Ford F-250 weighs a mere three. How can you tell what you think about how they hauled those things around until you stand under one and look it in the eye?

This is why you go, of course, because it is a singular place on earth. As much as it would like to be, it is not like the rest of Polynesia. It may recall the coast of Cornwall. It surely is nothing like its Chilean suzerain.

So you just have to go out there to see.

Friday Photo #35 – Sunset at Ahu Vai Uri, Easter Island (Rapa Nui)


The ‘ahu’ is the pedestal on which the ‘moais,’ or stone carvings stand. This one is closest to Hanga Roa, the only town on Easter Island. Please see 78 other photos in the Easter Island Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

And see all the Friday Photos.

Have a good weekend!


Friday Photo #2

HDR of the Moai at Tongariki, Rapa Nui (Easter Island)


“… Arriving at Tongariki for the first time is hard to describe. It’s an experience you can only have once in this world. The ahu is aligned with the inner part of a natural bay a few hundred meters wide and a field gradually rises inland giving the feel of an amphitheater.

These moai are huge. The biggest on the island is here, 86 tons. You can see why because you are line-of-sight from the main quarry, the cone of the volcano Rano Raraku. They say they built them bigger and bigger toward the end, perhaps growing plaintive in their pleas to the ancestor gods. If that is so these must have been among the last.

Standing at the base of the ahu regarding these guys, isolated in an obscure corner of an obscure island, while you’re alone in the twilight, it’s a feeling not quite like any other. It’s entirely unique.

A man taking pictures, another man and a boy are leaving as we walk through one of the rusty turnstiles they’ve put up here and there around the island. Campers’ lanterns twinkle down along the shore and besides that, no one. Nothing but the sea air, the full moon rising through broken clouds, a crashing surf, the moai and us….”

– from the eventual book, Visiting Easter Island, A Considered Guide.

Click to enlarge the photo. More photos in the Easter Island Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

Finding Rapa Nui

We'll be off at the end of the week on a trip that will take us to Istanbul and Kyiv, so we'll close the book for now on Easter Island. Here's just a portion of an article, more of which will show up later in a much longer form.


Oral tradition has it that Rapa Nui’s first colonizers arrived in two ships, one led by Hotu Matu’a, the other by Ava Reipua, either Hotu Matu’a’s wife or sister, probably in double canoes, although petroglyphs like the one at Orango are the only evidence.

The little museum outside Hanga Roa town points out that navigation solely by the stars has long been supplanted by charts, science and precision, except in Micronesia, where the by-the-stars tradition is still handed down orally.

The stars needn’t have been an ancient Polynesian navigator’s only tools, however. If they’d spent the previous centuries sailing from island chain to island chain, farther and farther out from indonesia to the Solomons, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga, the Societies and Tuamotus and Hawaii, a fair encyclopedia would have accreted to their collected body of their lore. There are many ways the ancient navigator would have been able to see land before he could see it.

Strictly speaking, for discovery, a precise location isn’t required. The curve of the horizon limits islands’ visibility to a distance of about 60 miles at best. At 510 meters, Rapa Nui’s highest peak was spotted from 35 sea miles by a 1882 German expedition.

Continue reading

Voyages of Discovery, Polynesia Edition


Here's a little weekend reading, an excerpt from a coming article on Easter Island:

Conjuring up the downfall of the civilization can drive you mad. Puzzling out the timeline of Rapa Nui’s colonization can cause fits. Then there’s the whole moai thing, the conundrum of their abandonment.

Thankfully, imagining how the settlers got here is a beautiful thing, thanks to the work of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and a canoe called Hōkūle‘a, the inspired project of an artist and historian elected a Living Treasure of Hawaii in 1984, a man named Herb Kawainui Kāne.  

Precious little evidence remains of the physical form of original Polynesian canoes of exploration. Drawings from the same 1773 Cook expedition that called at Rapa Nui show double-hulled canoes at Tonga. Fragments of ancient canoes have been excavated on New Zealand.

A bog on Huahine, near Tahiti, has yielded pieces of a canoe. A petroglyph of a canoe found at Orongo on Easter Island (the center of the birdman cult, about which more later) suggests the possible ancient design. Beyond these tantalizing bits, as Herb Kane tells the story, there is no hard evidence.

So in designing the Hōkūle‘a, Kane made some guesses. He came up with a double-hulled voyaging canoe 62 feet four inches long, 17-1/2 feet abeam with a draft of two and a half feet and a total sail area of 540 square feet. This is the vessel that, since 1975, has traveled the Polynesian Triangle, New Zealand to Hawaii to Rapa Nui.

A member of the crew named Sam Low kept a dairy of the sailing to Rapa Nui, and it’s a gorgeous thing to read. Freedom and expansiveness flow from Low’s pen as he writes of the measure of a sailor’s days – sunrises, stacks of cumulus, “smoke,” a gray haze of salt and seaspray stirred into the atmosphere by strong winds, and sunsets.

Seeking to "discover" Rapa Nui, the Hōkūle‘a sailed from Mangareva, and called for a few hours at Pitcairn Island, Rapa Nui’s nearest inhabited neighbor, where the entire island, 42 inhabitants, put on a potluck dinner. Low writes of “VHF radios squawking in every home — the island’s only reliable telephone service,” of “freezers and shelves crammed with tinned goods to tide people over between supply ships, which arrive once every 4 months,” of how mail is delivered by passing freighters, in watertight containers thrown overboard.

Pitcairn was the refuge of the HMS Bounty mutineers in 1789, and Fletcher Christian’s Bible survives in the 7th Day Adventist church. Brenda Christian lives on Pitcairn still, generations on.

Nainoa Thompson, the Hōkūle‘a lead navigator, devised a scheme for finding Rapa Nui at once ambitious and straightforward. Approaching from the west, the canoe would target a block of ocean starting 300 miles from Rapa Nui and extending two degrees on either side of 27 degrees south latitude, the island’s latitude.

Targeting a box 300 miles by 240 rather than a 64-square-mile speck would compensate for any mistakes the crew may have made in dead reckoning how far east the Hōkūle‘a had sailed from Pitcairn, or in estimating the canoe’s latitude. Beginning at the western edge of the block the Hōkūle‘a would sail up and down to the top and bottom of the box, zigzagging back and forth, and eventually, the crew hoped, pass within sight of Rapa Nui.

Sam Low's diary is written with grace and no affectation, and we’re as thrilled as the crew members when, just before dawn on October 8th, seventeen and one half days out of Mangareva, Max Yarawamai, standing lookout, spots Rapa Nui as a vague black line on the horizon, and the crew celebrates with garlic eggs for breakfast.


See more photos from Easter Island here.