Visiting Easter Island
Easter Island is considered part of the region of Valparaiso in Chile. At just 14 miles long by 7 miles wide, it is easy to get around. There are still hundreds of standing moai to visit as well as beautiful beaches, subterranean caves, rolling hills and steaming volcanoes. It has a subtropical climate. Daily flights generally run from Santiago and the minimum flight time is 5 hours. It is possible to fly from Tahiti.
Easter Island can be explored properly in 2-3 days. The best time of year to visit is during the summer months of December-February. The walks along the coastline and around the Rano Kau volcanic crater are well worth doing for the wonderful views.
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History of Easter Island
Rapa Nui (the Polynesian name for Easter Island; its Spanish name is Isla de Pascua) was first populated around 300-400AD by a settlement party of emigrants, most likely from a Polynesian subgroup such as the Marquesa Islands. The first king of Rapa Nui was Hoto-Matua, who landed at Anakena, a beautiful white coral beach to the very north of the island.
These first settlers of Rapa Nui and their descendants are believed to be responsible for the construction of nearly 900 giant stone figurines, dotted across the island. Averaging 13 feet high, with a weight of approximately 14 tons, these enormous moai are placed atop ceremonial stone platforms called ahus. The exact reason why the Rapa Nui people undertook such a task remains a mystery and it is still not understood how these stone blocks were moved around the island.
Somewhere between 700AD and 1050AD, evidence suggests that many of the early statues were destroyed and rebuilt as much larger moai, many of which still stand to this day. From 1050-1680AD, ahus also contained burial chambers and even larger figures were erected, suggesting that some moai represented important deities. The biggest statue found dating to this period measures about 32 feet tall, and consists of a single block weighing about 82 tons.
From around 1680 onwards, the island’s civilisation was characterised by civil war and general destruction. As the population grew so did pressure on the island’s environment. Deforestation gradually increased and as the supply of wood was depleted, the islanders found it difficult to continue making rope, canoes, hunting tools and possibly the transport of even more moai. Tension within the community rose and many statutes were toppled. A lot of obsidian spearpoints have been found dating to that period suggesting the breakout of violence. With little food or other ways to obtain sustenance, it is believed some of the islanders resorted to cannibalism.
The first known European visitor to Easter Island was Admiral Jacob Roggeveen, who arrived on Easter Sunday in 1722, leading a Dutch expedition. The Dutch named the island Paaseiland (Easter Island) to commemorate the day they arrived. Several other European voyagers passed through Easter Island, including the infamous Captain James Cook. However Chile eventually annexed Easter Island in 1888 after the War of the Pacific and leased much of the land for sheep raising. The Chilean government appointed a civilian governor for Easter Island in 1965 and the island’s residents became full Chilean citizens.
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