The landscapes of Easter Island

(continuer en français) – Published: May 8, 2021

It is clear that travellers come to Easter Island first and foremost to find themselves in the land of the moai, attracted also by the part of mysteries that remain about this civilisation left to its own for centuries. But during a stay of several days, there is time to take a break from the cultural tour and look at the landscape for a while.

Forget the moai, forget the mysteries of the past, Easter Island is in the middle of the Pacific at the same latitude as Polynesia, which gives rise to so many fantasies. Halfway between Chile (2,300 mi / 3,700 km) and Polynesia (2,485 mi / 4000 km), the island measures only 100 square miles, 163 square kilometres, a confetti in the immense Pacific Ocean.

Easter Island is of volcanic origin, it is formed by three main craters, the highest of which reaches 1663 feet, 507 metres, there are about sixty craters in total. They are all extinct and no volcanic episode seems to have disturbed the inhabited period, as far as can be deduced from a very elliptical history. However, the landscape is still marked by these characteristic cones.

Another result of volcanic activity are lava tunnels. These tunnels are formed during an eruption that produces a lava flow. The outer magma solidifies in contact with the air faster than the inner layer, which remains liquid and eventually flows out, leaving only the outer layer to form a tunnel.

The tunnels found on Easter Island were used for troglodyte living, either as dwellings or even for farming. Some of these caves open onto the sea in the middle of the cliffs. It is possible to explore some lava tunnels.

The crater of Rano Kau has become the natural rainwater reservoir for the population grouped in Hanga Roa. As a huge natural water reservoir, its resources are under scrutiny as they are threatened by the increase in the local population and the number of visitors, as well as by changing lifestyles.

Rano Raraku is another crater forming a natural lake. It is the volcano in which the moai were carved, it is located in the centre of the island and is mainly used to water the free-roaming horse population.

The semi-wild horses are an amazing sight on Easter Island. They come and go without control, including on the archaeological sites, trampling the sacred ahu with impunity, where clumsy visitors are fiercely reprimanded by prerogative-minded guides.

Forming small groups or, more rarely, isolated, they can be counted by the thousands, but they are marked with a sign linking them to an owner.

This foal enjoys the careful protection of its herd, the members of which have arranged themselves as a rampart around it. It is only when the young horse awkwardly stands up on its fragile legs when a bus approaches that the group will gently gallop off.

Until 1953, the vast majority of the island’s surface, around 95%, was granted to English sheep farmers by the Chilean government. The population was not allowed to venture beyond the narrow confines of Hanga Roa, the only inhabited area.

Perhaps as a reminder of this unhappy period, one hardly ever sees sheep, while cows enjoy the same freedom as horses, though in smaller numbers. Despite vague fences, they are often found near roads as they are less agile than horses in moving over rough terrain.

Dogs also roam freely. They do not know the collar, although some take to heart the defence of their master’s property. Others roam wherever they wish, showing a surprising familiarity with visitors. Used to the places normally visited, they serve as volunteer guides to show the way, expecting nothing in return for their effort.

From Hanga Roa, there are two paved roads, one going north, the other east. To get around the island, a dirt road must be taken between the two paved sections. Beyond that, on the country roads, most of the time 4WDs are essential on the rough sections.

Easter Island is considered to have suffered total deforestation as a result of overexploitation of a limited resource by a permanently growing population. Some plantations have been attempted but most of the land is extensive grazing with some cultivated fields near Hanga Roa.

The coasts are generally inhospitable, even when there are no cliffs, rows of rocks where the waves crash make them unapproachable.

There are only two small sandy beaches in the north, Anakena and Ovahe. This is where the local population, who still have a close link with the sea, meet, as well as holidaymakers who want to take a more traditional break.

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12 comments

  1. Another of the bygone countries used to go every month until 2001 especially Santiago Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, Puerto Montt,Conception, Temuco and to the north Iquique. thanks for the memories of Chile i still have the brochures of my trips !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your appreciation. For me, Easter Island and Machu Picchu are the two anchors of South America in time. Even if for the Incas there were other events before them, it is from this organised civilisation that we base our reasoning.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would love to visit Easter Island someday. I love the intrigue and mystery of this place. How neat that you are able to explore some of the lava tunnels. Even though there are only two sandy beaches, they both look wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, you don’t go there for the beach 🙂 It’s true that the trip deserves to be prepared to be more interesting. Once on site, there are still many things to be surprised about.

      Liked by 1 person

    • As you say it looks like other places so there is more emphasis on showing what is specific, but I think this pleasant landscape contributes to the quality of the stay. The semi-wild horses are another underrated curiosity for me.

      Liked by 1 person

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