Riding, Relaxing and Ringing in the New Year on Easter Island
A bike ride around Easter Island is an experience of a lifetime. Anyone willing to strap on a bicycle helmet and brave the forty kilometer loop will be rewarded with stories to tell and the feeling of accomplishing a great adventure.
Easter Island has one main road. The paved but potholed road runs along one coast and back through the middle of the island before returning to Hanga Roa, the only town. It travels up and down the gentle volcanic hills, along the rocky coastline, through too many archeological sites to count, and is surrounded by every shade of blue found in the palette of the Pacific Ocean.
With this backdrop we grabbed a map and hopped on the bikes. With no deadlines or schedules, our only goal was to explore the intriguing and mysterious island, all of which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We rode through town passing the harbor, the soccer field, and the shops and restaurants frequented by tourists and locals alike. The morning waves were large and surfers were out in force. The temperature was perfect for the sunbathers and swimmers in the public swimming areas, small pools along the ocean protected from the surf by large rocks placed around the rim.
We noticed a few small toppled Moai platforms near the harbor as we biked along the beach and stopped to watch the waves crash on the coral and volcanic reefs that protect the shore.
Our first stop was Hanga Piko, a Moai platform overlooking the smaller fishing harbor on the edge of town. As we pulled up we noticed the tour bus and guide that we had taken the day before. A few of our friends from the day before had signed up for another tour. We watched as the guide read the signs with the group and we were happy to be on our own and not stuck on a bus for another day. Our friends seemed impressed that we were biking and not on the bus. We chatted for a while and hopped back on the bikes.
Next we rode a few kilometers to Ana Kai Tangata, another cave along the ocean. The cave is located at the bottom of the cliff and is decorated with prehistoric drawings. At the top of the cliff is a viewpoint overlooking a massive lava tube leading into the sparkling blue water.
We continued down the road another kilometer and came to the trail that leads to the village of O’rongo, located at the top of Rano Kau volcano.The trail is the same one used by Rapa Nui warriors who competed in the famous “birdman” competition. Each tribe selected a warrior to represent them in the competition held each year.
The competitors climbed down the sheer volcano cliff over the ocean and swam to a small offshore island to search for the egg of the migratory bird that visits the island in the spring. The first warrior to return with the egg was given the title of “birdman” and was treated as royalty for the following year.
We decided to hike the trail, rather than bike the road to the top of the volcano. The hike was a ninety minute trek straight up. The trail led through grasses and trees and we met several farm animals grazing as we went by. As we walked up, we were able to get a great view of the town below. We didn’t see any other people on the entire hike. We thought that it was amazing to have an entire archeological site to ourselves for as long as we wanted.
When we finally crested the rim of the volcano, the view was breathtaking. The crated of the volcano was filled with aquatic plants and the clouds reflected off the surface of the water below. One side of the crater had collapsed opening up a stunning view of the Pacific below.
We walked around the volcano rim to the “birdman” village of O’Rongo. The stone huts overlooking the small island are where the warriors lived as they prepared for the competition.
The views from the top of the volcano were incredible. It was possible to see the town, the harbor, and most of the island. We didn’t want to rush, so we lingered for a while and simply took in the view. It was an incredible experience to just sit and absorb the beauty of this place in complete solitude.
After some time at the top we eventually began the long trek back down. What was supposed to be a three hour round trip hike actually took us nearly five hours. It is nice to be able to take time to enjoy an experience like Rano Kau and O’Rongo.
We made it down the volcano and headed back to town. It was getting late and we went to dinner and turned in early. Tomorrow would be a long day of biking the long loop around the island.
The next day we woke early and jumped on the bikes in an attempt to beat the midday heat. It was twenty five kilometers to the other side of the island and about twenty kilometers back. Could we do that? Did we want to do that? We weren’t sure.
The hills were up and down but they were not steep. We rode by many more archeological sites and stopped to enjoy some that we had not yet visited. I enjoyed being able to take photos at my leisure and not be rushed by a tour guide.
The sun was strong and the temperature was warm, but a continuous and cool Pacific breeze kept us comfortable. After about four hours we had arrived at Rano Raraku, the quarry where the Moai were carved. We stopped there for a cold coca-cola and took a break from the sun. I used the visit to sneak into the backside of the volcano which we did not get a chance to see on our prior visit. I was glad that I did as I was treated with the sight of wild horses running among the stone statues. It was almost surreal.
After an hour rest, we got back on the bikes for the ride to Anakena beach, the only sand beach on Easter Island. The ride to Anakena took another two hours. When we arrived we were hot, tired, and hungry. Fortunately, there is a restaurant at the beach and we were treated to one of the best meals that we had on the island.
Maybe it was our age, or maybe it was our intelligence, but after resting and eating we did not want to get back on the bikes for another twenty kilometers of riding. After asking around, we found a cab driver willing to load us and our bikes into his car for the long return trip to town. We were never happier to be cramped and uncomfortable in a small cab. We also were anxious to get back for the island's New Year's Eve celebration.
The rest of our week was filled with more of the same. Perfect weather, bike rides to a few archeological sites, leisurely lunches, followed by a trip to a cove, beach or inlet (anywhere that had a bit of shade for Jen and we could get into the cooling water). Each afternoon we enjoyed watching the the sky turn it’s many shades of pink, orange, red, and yellow.
On our last day we traded in our bikes and rented a scooter. I wanted to capture the sunrise on Tongariki on the eastern side of the island. A taxi or a tour cost twice as much as renting the scooter.
To make a practice run, Jen and I spent the afternoon retracing the beach road around the island. We wanted to spend the late afternoon at a hidden beach, Ovahe. The beach is actually a cove at the bottom of a rocky cliff and we were told not to visit there because of falling rocks and a strong current.
So, of course we had to visit. The cove was beautiful. Near the trail entrance was an ancient crematorium that jutted out into the crashing waves. Our timing was bad as the tide was just coming in and the beach path was inaccessible. We settled for a beautiful view on an outcrop of rocks and enjoyed a nice afternoon.
The next morning the early ride to Tongariki was worth the bouncy roads and putting up with Jen’s backseat driving from the day before. I don’t know if it was the few times I ran us into a ditch (sharp turns were a little difficult), but Jen decided to forego the early morning ride across the island to watch the sunrise.
Unfortunately, I had one small mishap. I lost Jen’s rental helmet. I thought I would save time and return the scooter before we had to leave for the airport that afternoon. The helmet came unbuckled during my trip and I lost it somewhere around the island. So, these may the most expensive sunrise photos that I have ever taken. After returning to our hotel, our host kindly drove us to the airport at noon and gave us each a beautiful shell necklace.
Our week on Easter Island was truly a magical experience. A visit to this friendly and mysterious island should be on everyone’s top list of places to visit. And, until you can make your own memories on Easter Island, feel free to enjoy our photos and stories!