EASTER ISLAND by Bonnie Elliott

Another beautifully written and photographed story from Bonnie who has written previously for Fifty Five Plus.  This is one I will have to add to my bucket list.  Easter Island is also known as Rapa Nui.



First view of Easter Island


The crossing from Pisco, Peru to Easter Island (which belongs to Chile) turned from four sea days to five. Two days out from Peru the Captain announced that we were heading for some bad weather, with a low pressure system in our path – strong winds and six metre waves, predicted to last until our first planned day at Easter Island, which was Tuesday 2 October.

So, with great Dutch integrity, we diverted northwest to avoid the worst of the weather, and delayed our arrival at Easter island till Wednesday 3 October, when the storm would have passed through. A bit of a gamble, but it paid off brilliantly. The worst we went through was about 3 metre waves, and we arrived at Easter Island to relatively calm seas (important because we had to disembark in tenders) and fine weather. Apparently it had been windy and raining for weeks before we arrived.

If we hadn’t been able to stop at Easter Island I’m sure there would have been material for a sequel to Mutiny on the Bounty. Some people we met on board have told us they’ve cruised to Easter Island twice before and had not set foot on land because of the weather and the difficulty of accessing the tiny harbour with the tenders.


A group of moai along the shore


Of course, the process of disembarking 1000+ people at a difficult tender port was going to be a bunfight, and it was! A series of debacles (enough for a novel on their own, so I won’t go into detail here). By good fortune Graham and I managed to get on one of the first tenders each day!

We had pre-booked a two-day group tour with a local travel company, at about one quarter of the price of the ship’s excursions. There was a bit of a delay each morning when we had to wait for the rest of the group to come ashore (there were a few buses, so it was fill-up-and-go), but apart from that we had a very comprehensive tour of the island over the two days.

There are almost 300 moai (the big statues the island is known for) in multiple sites all over the island. There had been a series of lectures on board, and someone selling their book, so those who wanted to know all the details before they arrived were well catered for, and could pretend to be first explorers, experts or know-it-all’s (the kind you hope not to be sitting next to at dinner). We felt we had done enough study in our lives, and had enough trivia in our heads to last through our golden years, so we skipped most of the serious stuff.

In the 1700s to stop tribal warfare they held an annual contest. The fittest from each tribe would swim out to the island (photo below) and collect a Tern egg and bring it back unbroken (warding off attacks by other competitors, strong currents, etc). The winner’s tribe’s chief became the leader and the swimmer got his pick of seven virgins.

Perhaps we could bring in the same system in Australia for more stable leadership??


Offshore island, site of the annual Birdman contest


The important things to know are that the moai were placed to give strength to the people of the villages. The platforms on which they stand contain the remains of the islanders’ ancestors, so it is forbidden to walk on them. Many were decorated with intricate carvings which have been eroded by exposure to the weather.

Here I am!


We visited the main quarry where the moai were carved then slid down the hill to be carried to their destinations. There was one “under construction” in the rock, and many at various points on their way down the slope. The red topknots on some (to indicate royalty) were from rock taken from another quarry with red volcanic rock.

The island was formed by three volcanoes, one at each corner of its triangular shape, and around 30 km x 20 km x 20 km. Consequently, the soil is the same rich red clay I grew up with on the Atherton Tablelands in North Queensland. One of the volcanoes (inactive) has a large crater filled with fresh water.

Volcanic crater


The main town is right by the airport (four Latam/LAN flights a week, between Santiago and Tahiti) and the seaport (accessible only to small vessels, so even freight has to be tendered off).



Near the main town


There are herds of cows and horses all over the island, which are not fenced in, but are all branded to establish ownership. They wander across the roads where and when they like. The cows are used for dairy and meat, and the horses are for riding, farm work, and occasionally for meat (Graham thinks there might have been one in his hamburger ). There are also a lot of dogs who belong to nobody in particular but all seem well fed and are very polite. We saw two women (tourists) who had bought a bag of dog food from the shop, and poured some on a piece of bark for a couple of sleepy dogs outside the post office. One immediately scoffed most of it while the other waited (no fighting) then took its turn to eat the rest. Then those two and another who had just arrived sat and wagged their tails at the women to ask for more. Better behaviour than I’ve seen from many “trained” dogs. We often saw hikers with backpacks being followed by a few dogs, but nothing threatening.

One of the dogs, but check out the topography in the background


The island’s shore is mostly cliffs, but there are a few beaches and rocky bays. The coastline is quite spectacular and mesmerising, with clean turquoise water breaking on the black rocks.

I could have watched the waves all day, but there was always another moai group waiting, as they have done for centuries.

Rockin’ the Elvis look


We’re now on our way to French Polynesia, passing by (not stopping at) Pitcairn Island and Henderson Island along the way.