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Easter Island, Spanish Isla de Pascua, also called Rapa Nui, Chilean dependency in the eastern Pacific Ocean. It is the easternmost outpost of the Polynesian island world. It is famous for its giant stone statues. The island stands in isolation 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometres) east of Pitcairn Island and 2,200 miles west of Chile. Forming a triangle 14 miles long by seven miles wide, it has an area of 63 square miles (163 square kilometres); its highest point, Mount Terevaka, is 1,969 feet (600 metres) above sea level.
To its original inhabitants the island is known as Rapa Nui (“Great Rapa”) or Te Pito te Henua (“Navel of the World”). The first European visitors, the Dutch, named it Paaseiland (“Easter Island”) in memory of their own day of arrival. Its mixed population is predominantly of Polynesian descent; almost all live in the village of Hanga Roa on the sheltered west coast. Pop. (2002) 3,304; (2020) 7,750.
The small and hilly island is not part of a sunken landmass but is a typical oceanic high island formed by volcanoes rising from the seafloor. Geologic and oceanographic evidence shows that no perceptible emergence or submergence of the island’s coastline has taken place since the last fall in sea level, which occurred less than 10,000 years ago. Three extinct volcanoes chiefly composed of tuff (a porous rock formed of compacted volcanic fragments) and joined by their own lava flows give the island its characteristic triangular shape. Parasitic tuff craters and cones (i.e., craters and cones formed on the side of, or near, volcanoes after the original vent has become plugged up) are interspersed in the landscape, which is otherwise dominated by eroded lava fields in which obsidian is commonly found.
Most of these fields are thickly packed with both large and small lumps of cellular and tuffaceous lava that is either black or rusty in colour. Stoneless surface soil is sparse; it is suitable for extensive cultivation mainly in the Hanga Roa and Mataveri area in the southwest, at Vaihu and on the plain southwest of the volcano Rano Raraku, and on the prehistorically cleared Poike peninsula in the eastern corner of the island. Rain collects in the partly bog-covered crater lakes of the volcanoes Rano Kao, Rano Raraku, and Rano Aroi. One intermittent stream, fed by the Rano Aroi crater lake, flows down Mount Terevaka’s slopes before disappearing into the porous soil. Water from the extremely deep crater of Rano Kao, which is about 3,000 feet wide, is piped to Hanga Roa. The coast is formed by soft, eroded, ashy cliffs, with a vertical drop of about 500 to 1,000 feet; the cliffs are intercepted by long stretches of low, hard, and rugged lava formations.
There is no natural harbour, but anchorage is found off Hanga Roa on the west coast; off Vinapu and Hotu-Iti on the south coast; and off Anakena and in the Bahía la Perouse on the north coast. Notable among the few small offshore islets are Motu-Nui, Motu-Iti, and Motu-Kaokao (which figured in a local bird cult) near the southwest cape. The only true sand beach is at Anakena; most other beaches are of gravel. Caves abound, many consisting of subterranean rooms joined by narrow tunnels extending far into the lava beds.
The climate is subtropical: i.e., sunny and dry. The warmest months are January through March, when the average temperature is 73 °F (23 °C), and the coolest months are June through August, when the average temperature is 64 °F (18 °C). Average annual precipitation is about 49 inches (1,250 millimetres) but with considerable annual variation. September is the driest month, and the heaviest rainfall occurs in June and July in accordance with the passage of austral winter fronts. Winds in June and August are irregular; during the rest of the year trade winds from the east and southeast are dominant. From September through March the Peru (or Humboldt) Current, which has an average temperature of about 70 °F (21 °C), flows against the island.
Plant and animal life
Indigenous plants and animals are few. At the time of European arrival the toromiro tree, endemic to the island, was the only wild tree and the Carolina wolfberry the only wild shrub, the vegetation being predominantly herbaceous. The toromiro tree was overexploited by the island wood carvers, and the last local specimen died in the 1950s. The species was saved from extinction, however; the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition collected seeds and planted them in the Gothenburg Botanical Garden, and saplings from the garden were reintroduced to Easter Island in 1988. Analysis of pollen deposits has revealed that other trees and shrubs, among them the giant Chile palm (Jubaea spectabilis), were formerly present on the island until exterminated by extensive fires occurring at the time of aboriginal human settlement.
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Today only 31 wild flowering plants, 14 ferns, and 14 mosses are reported. Grass and small ferns dominate the barren landscape, whereas the boggy crater lakes are thickly covered by two imported American species, the totora reed (an important building material) and Polygonum acuminatum (a medicinal plant). A number of cultivated species of plants were also introduced partly from America and partly from Polynesia before the arrival of Europeans; of these the principal species was the sweet potato, which was cultivated in extensive plantations and formed the staple diet. Bottle gourds, sugarcane, bananas, taro, yams, and two useful trees (i.e., the Asiatic paper mulberry, with bark used for cloth manufacture, and the American Triumfetta semitriloba, with bark used for rope making) were of aboriginal importation, as also probably were the husk-tomato, a small variety of pineapple, and the coconut.
Before the arrival of human beings, the only vertebrates were either fish or seabirds capable of long flights. The animal life on land was otherwise restricted to a very few species of isopods (an order of crustaceans), spiders, insects, worms, a snail, and a centipede. Vast quantities of flies, large cockroaches, and a small scorpion were introduced recently. A small, long-legged chicken reported to have laid blue eggs was introduced in pre-European times but later interbred with European varieties. The aboriginal edible Polynesian rat was subsequently replaced by larger European species. Sheep, horses, cattle, and pigs were introduced by the missionaries who established themselves ashore in 1864. Sheep were especially numerous for almost a century after foreign ranchers began commercial ranching in 1870; sheep ranching came to an end in the mid-1980s, but cattle ranching was enhanced. A large wild cat, living in caves, is of unknown introduction. A Chilean partridge, a quail, and a small hawk have been added to the wildlife since 1880. Sea turtles and seals are now rare curiosities, but crayfish and various coastal and deep-sea fishes abound around the coast.
Easter Island covers roughly 64 square miles in the South Pacific Ocean, and is located some 2,300 miles from Chile’s west coast and 2,500 miles east of Tahiti. Known as Rapa Nui to its earliest inhabitants, the island was christened Paaseiland, or Easter Island, by Dutch explorers in honor of the day of their arrival in 1722. It was annexed by Chile in the late 19th century and now maintains an economy based largely on tourism. Easter Island’s most dramatic claim to fame is an array of almost 900 giant stone figures that date back many centuries. The statues reveal their creators to be master craftsmen and engineers, and are distinctive among other stone sculptures found in Polynesian cultures. There has been much speculation about the exact purpose of the statues, the role they played in the ancient civilization of Easter Island and the way they may have been constructed and transported.
The first human inhabitants of Rapa Nui (the Polynesian name for Easter Island; its Spanish name is Isla de Pascua) are believed to have arrived in an organized party of emigrants. Archaeology dates their arrival at between 700-800 A.D., while linguists estimate it was around the year 400. Tradition holds that the first king of Rapa Nui was Hoto-Matua, a ruler from a Polynesian subgroup (possibly from the Marquesa Islands) whose ship traveled thousands of miles before landing at Anakena, one of the few sandy beaches on the island’s rocky coast.
Did you know? After the decline of the moai culture, a new cult of bird worship developed on Easter Island. It was centered on a ceremonial village called Orongo, built on the rim of the crater of the Rano Kao volcano.
The greatest evidence for the rich culture developed by the original settlers of Rapa Nui and their descendants is the existence of nearly 900 giant stone statues that have been found in diverse locations around the island. Averaging 13 feet (4 meters) high, with a weight of 13 tons, these enormous stone busts–known as moai–were carved out of tuff (the light, porous rock formed by consolidated volcanic ash) and placed atop ceremonial stone platforms called ahus. It is still unknown precisely why these statues were constructed in such numbers and on such a scale, or how they were moved around the island.
Phases of Island Culture
Archaeological excavations of Easter Island reveal three distinct cultural phases: the early period (700-850 A.D.), the middle period (1050-1680) and the late period (post-1680). Between the early and middle periods, evidence has shown that many early statues were deliberately destroyed and rebuilt as the larger and heavier moai for which the island is most famous. During the middle period, ahus also contained burial chambers, and the images portrayed by moai are thought to have represented important figures that were deified after death. The biggest statue found dating to the middle period measures about 32 feet tall, and consists of a single block weighing about 82 tons (74,500 kilograms).
The late period of the island’s civilization was characterized by civil wars and general destruction; more statues were toppled, and many mataa, or obsidian spearpoints, have been found dating to that period. Island tradition claims that around 1680, after peacefully coexisting for many years, one of the island’s two main groups, known as the Short-Ears, rebelled against the Long-Ears, burning many of them to death on a pyre constructed along an ancient ditch at Poike, on the island’s far northeastern coast.
Outsiders on Easter Island
The first known European visitor to Easter Island was the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who arrived in 1722. The Dutch named the island Paaseiland (Easter Island) to commemorate the day they arrived. In 1770, the Spanish viceroy of Peru sent an expedition to the island; the explorers spent four days ashore and estimated a native population of some 3,000 people. Just four years later, the British navigator Sir James Cook arrived to find Easter Island’s population decimated by what seemed to have been a civil war, with only 600 to 700 men and fewer than 30 women remaining.
A French navigator, Jean-Francois de Galaup, comte de La Perouse, found 2,000 people on the island when he arrived in 1786. A major slave raid from Peru in 1862, followed by epidemics of smallpox, reduced the population to only 111 people by 1877. By that time, Catholic missionaries had settled on Easter Island and begun to convert the population to Christianity, a process that was completed by the late 19th century. In 1888, Chile annexed Easter Island, leasing 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.
Easter Island Today
An isolated triangle measuring 14 miles long by seven miles wide, Easter Island was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions. In addition to its hilly terrain, the island contains many subterranean caves with corridors that extend deep into mountains of volcanic rock. The island’s largest volcano is known as Rano Kao, and its highest point is Mount Terevaka, which reaches 1,665 feet (507.5m) above sea level. It has a subtropical climate (sunny and dry) and temperate weather.
Easter Island boasts no natural harbor, but ships can anchor off Hanga Roa on the west coast; it is the island’s largest village, with a population of roughly 3,300. In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage site. It is now home to a mixed population, mostly of Polynesian ancestry and made up of the descendants of the Long-Ears and Short-Ears. Spanish is generally spoken, and the island has developed an economy largely based on tourism.
In Easter Island Tourism you will find all the information you need on; hotels, tourist packages, and holidays, you can also find information about culture and archeology of this unique place.We are a on-line travel agency, dedicated exclusively to Rapanui, we offer advice and travel bookings, putting at your disposal the multiple possibilities a tourist would want to access in Easter Island. Find holiday programs for an exclusive adventure in Easter Island, learn about restaurants, rent a car, beaches. We will help you create the perfect trip.
Discover the mysterious Moais of Easter Island
Find the best Easter Island accommodation and make a reservation
Where to eat
Read reviews of the best restaurants and pubs of Hanga Roa
Check our cabins and cottages selection and book online
Experience world-class walking and trekking paths in Easter Island
Discover a world of diving adventure in the crystal-clear waters of the island
Find the best travel packages, specially recommended and selected by our experts
Enjoy surfing, explore the island on horse back riding, practice bycling
Top 5 attractions
Rano Raraku Quarry
Most of the 900 moai in the island come from the slopes of the Rano Raraku volcano
Anakena Beach and Ahu Nau Nau
Anakena must be the only beach in the world that was blessed with two important archeological sites
Of all the ahu in Easter Island, the most prestigious one is certainly Tongariki, which has 15 statues
Rano Kau Volcano and Orongo
The Rano Kau is amazing for his creator and the cliff around it, but the most attractive part is the historic role it plays
The Mauga Terevaka is the highest point of the island, and also the most recent.
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