Revelation on Rapa Nui

Rapa Nui | BCBusiness
Everyone knows about Easter Island’s stone statues, but the island also offers abundant hiking, caving and snorkelling.

More widely known as Easter Island, this fragile outpost offers more than stone statues

Before I fly from Tahiti to Easter Island, I imagine arriving at the tiny outpost on a turbulence-tossed puddle jumper. In reality, I touch down in a Boeing 767-300 on a 3.5-kilometre runway built by NASA—constructed in case the space shuttle needed to land in the middle of the Pacific—and begin to realize that little will be as I expected on what the United Nations has dubbed the world’s most isolated inhabited island.


A member of the BCBusiness team shares their personal pics of the stunning Easter Island.

The island, which officially belongs to Chile, was christened “Easter Island” on Easter Sunday, 1722, by Dutch sea captain Jacob Roggeveen, although it’s increasingly referred to by its native name, Rapa Nui. It languished in obscurity before Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl documented his excavations there in his best-selling 1957 memoir, Aku-Aku. Back then, just one warship a year visited with provisions from Chile; today, national carrier LAN Airlines offers flights daily from Santiago and weekly from Tahiti. The haunting, 165-square-kilometre volcanic island with a modest population of 5,000 attracts an estimated 75,000 Chileans and foreign tourists annually. Fifteen cruise-ship visits a year also help to fill hotels, whose capacity is a humble 1,000 beds a night.

STAY Explora Rapa Nui offers first-class stays with full board and guided tours (from US$3,360/3 nights; For a less astronomical budget, try the family-owned Hotel Hangaroa (from US$1,700 for three nights;

SAVOUR On the seaside patio at Restaurant Tataku Vave, pescatarians will enjoy ceviche with octopus, shrimp or mahi mahi, garnished with pineapple or mango (entrees from US$20).

SEE The evening Kari Kari show in Hanga Roa features lively and kinetic Rapa Nui-style dancing and singing. Be prepared to get whisked up on stage with the traditionally clad cast (US$20 per person).

SOUVENIR It’s hard to resist bringing home a traditional stone carving or birdman figure, like those found at the Mercado Artesanal in Hanga Roa. You could pay US$8 for a bone necklace or US$14,000 for a metre-high, handcrafted wooden moai.

Rapa Nui is most famous for its impassive stone statues, known as moai, but the island also has abundant hiking, caving and snorkelling. Once virtually a desert due to deforestation and sheep-herding, the island is ripe with guava trees and tall grass, but today is once again threatened by environmental and social pressures brought by increasing tourism, its economic mainstay.

I get a taste of the way forward at Explora Rapa Nui. This architecturally stunning, six-year-old lodge combines luxury with eco-friendliness, offering efficient lighting, purified drinking water, even a recycling program. My elegantly minimalist, Scandinavian-style room features pine furniture, a king-sized bed and a view of the lodge’s eucalyptus-shaded pool and hot tub. At Explora, along with well-heeled guests from Canada, the U.S. and France, I feast on duck magret and ceviche of local fish, plus salads tossed with ingredients from the on-site organic garden.

The island, I soon discover, is an optimal place for stimulating the imagination. English-speaking guides lead hikes to such awe-inspiring sites as Rano Raraku, the mountainside quarry where the monolithic moai were created, and Ahu Akivi, where seven of the big, whimsical fellows stare out to sea atop a restored ancestral burial platform. There are around 1,000 moai on the island, carved by Polynesians between roughly 1000 and 1680 AD. How did they move these seven-ton statues around the island to different coastal sites? Many theories exist—from using log rollers to making the statues “walk” by rocking them back and forth with ropes—but the answer remains a mystery.

“If we knew everything about this island, it wouldn’t be as intriguing,” says Chilean-born guide Carlos Peralta. Originally trained as a biochemical engineer, he turned down a job in California and moved here with his girlfriend instead, prompted by a recurring dream about a Polynesian island.

Modern-day entertainment here differs significantly, and in the laidback town of Hanga Roa on the southwest coast, a snorkelling expedition awaits me. Our motorboat heads up the coast to the islet of Motu Tautara. There the water is mind-blowingly clear, with visibility down more than 12 metres. I see brown-and-white maito fish and angel fish nibbling on huge coral reefs. On the way back to Hanga Roa, a warm tropical rain falls. In the days ahead, I also squeeze into caves that perilously overlook the ocean, trot on horseback up a dramatic, cross-topped hill and bike along scenic coastal roads.

Both opportunity and prosperity abound here. Residents live tax-free and pay just $1.50 a year to register their cars. But as visitor numbers grow, the moai could be threatened by more than just the free-roaming horses that scratch their backs on the statues. Even the Rapa Nui language—spoken by just 2,500—is at risk of extinction.

“Our young people know it’s very important to learn the language and they use it in their daily lives,” says Nune Hucke, a Rapa Nui native. With the right mindset, this superlative island can prosper for generations. 

Local Knowledge 

According to tradition, lands on the island can only be inherited between locals. Before local Mike Rapu became a partner in the luxury eco-resort Explora Rapa Nui, he set the South American free-diving record of 71 metres on the island in 2000.

How did you get involved with Explora?
I met [Explora board member] Gaston Cummins when he visited the island. I was catering an event at a local beach and told him: “I think I own the most beautiful property on Rapa Nui.” He said he’d like to have a hotel here, but I was worried about potential pollution. But after I visited Explora’s Patagonia lodge, I realized the company is doing something positive for the environment.

What makes this lodge eco-friendly?
During construction, we were careful to blend the hotel into the natural landscape. It’s the first hotel on Rapa Nui that treats its own garbage and sewage. We recycle everything and use Ecolab products.

When companies come to the resort it’s often reserved exclusively for them. What companies have you hosted recently?
Toyota Peru and some Chilean banks.

What brings business people to your lodge?
We have this concept of simplicity and luxury. We offer outdoor business lunches with grilled local fish. You can go snorkelling or kayaking for team-building here.