Monday, May 9, 2016

Hiking Easter Island: Getting off the Beaten Path (Literally)

As we previously noted, Easter Island is not large, so we left our rental car behind from time to time (only once with the keys locked inside it) to hike across a large swath of the island.

One afternoon, we set off to hike to the top of the highest point on the island.  Maunga Terevaka, at 511 meters above sea level, is not actually that high, but it promised 360-degree views of the entire island and surrounding ocean.  As soon as we pulled into the nearby parking lot, the sky opened up and the rain started to pour.  We huddled in the car as the rain streaked down the windows, attempting to reach our best meteorological assessment of whether the rain would let up anytime soon.

As we waited, several dripping wet stragglers appeared, hiking down the trail out of the fog.  Eventually, the clouds cleared and we decided that it was as good a time as ever to start our three-hour trek – Stephanie, at least, had planned ahead and brought her raincoat.

We headed up the trail, winding through fields and even a few patches of hardy trees.  Soon enough, we were caught in yet another torrential downpour and a cloud bank obscured the trail.  Somewhere along the way, we managed to turn onto the wrong trail (there are seemingly no trail markings on Easter Island).  We eventually decided we were on the wrong track and turned around, but not before leading a family of Dutch tourists who had followed us astray.  Despite confessing our mistake, they kept heading up our original path and we never saw them again...hopefully they made it home safely.

We kept our heads down to escape the sideways rain and wind, occasionally asking one another where the top of this supposed mountain might be.  From the top of one volcanic crater, we could see another higher peak, and continued on our way, encountering a few lost Spaniards en route.  (Not only were the Spaniards lost, but they had made the questionable decision to hike in their flip flops.)

Once we finally reached what we determined to be the top, we thought we would just have a picture of the clouds to post on the blog, much like our visit to the Grand Canyon.  However, as we waited, the ocean surrounding us on four sides gradually became visible.  We were finally certain that we had reached the highest point on the island.

Hiking to Rapa Nui’s highest “peak” was simply preparation for our second hike, tackling the remote northwest corner of Easter Island.  Armed with an imprecise map and some comments from a TripAdvisor forum, we set off just prior to sunrise from Anakena Beach for what would be an almost fifteen mile expedition.

For the next several hours, we felt like the only people on the island as we followed the rock strewn “path” along the coast.  (Fun fact: Rocks cover the surface of Easter Island, primarily because they were once used for lithic mulching, a form of farming in nutrient-poor soil such as that of Easter Island.)  Along the way, we encountered several wild horses and various unexpectedly menacing cows.

We were also constantly on the lookout for archaeological artifacts.  We’re sure there were several objects we overlooked given that Easter Island’s archaeological wonders tend to blend in with the plethora of regular rocks dotting the landscape.  Regardless, we found remains of villages, toppled moai, and petroglyphs.

For the better part of the day, we followed horse and cow paths along the coast, diverging from the path only to avoid the most menacing bulls guarding their territory.  We climbed over or under various sections of barbed wire, although it was not clear what was being fenced in (or out) in the desolate landscape.  We were glad that we had started our day early since there is limited shade on Easter Island (an unsurprising result of deforestation).  We even welcomed the occasional rain shower and brisk gust of wind, as well as multiple stops for peanut butter and jelly and Daim bars.

The hike offered a magnificent sense of solitude as well as gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean.  The lack of a clearly marked path brought an added sense of adventure, particularly when we suddenly found ourselves at the edge of the island staring down a vertigo-inducing precipice.  Fifteen miles was a bit farther than we had imagined and we were definitely happy to see the roof of our bungalow in the distance as we approached the end of the day.

If you’re interested in completing these hikes yourself, here’s our advice.

Maunga Terevaka:  Park your car at Ahu Akivi and head up the trail.  Although there’s a sign at the beginning of the trail, there won’t be any further directions for the rest of the hike.  Whenever the trail splits, pick the side that looks like a walking path and ignore the paths that look like they have been made by tires.

Northwest Coast:  Have a taxi drop you off at Anakena and follow the dirt road that dwindles to a path to the left/west of the beach.  Keep following this path, such as it is, all along the northwest coast.  It’s practically impossible to get lost with the ocean constantly on your right.  You’ll eventually reach signs of civilization at Te Peu, an archaeological site on the west coast north of Hanga Roa.  From there, you can take the dirt road to Ahu Akivi to catch a taxi back to town or keep hiking south toward Hanga Roa.  Many guides and books tell you to do the hike the other way around (starting at Haga Roan and ending at Anakena) so you can end the day with a swim at the beach.  We opted to do the hike the other way around so we could have the sun on our backs instead of up front.  Also, doing the opposite of what most travel books recommend tends to result in a more solitary experience rather a hike full of other tourists.

Hiking is a great way to explore Rapa Nui.  And regardless of the route, we can guarantee you will find a moment when you will get to appreciate exactly how in the middle of nowhere you are, with nothing but the Pacific Ocean in every direction.


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