Rapa Nui: hidden gem of the South Pacific


1 April 2011

Rapa Nui: hidden gem of the South Pacific

On a rainy morning, after 21 days at sea, Easter Island appears before our eyes. The big dark clouds that fill the sky contrast with the white spume from the waves crashing on the jagged rocks. Like a natural fortress, surrounded by the sea, Easter Island, aka Rapa Nui in Polynesian, seems to want to discourage us from landing on its shores.

Its inhospitable appearance was unable to deter explorers, colonizers and slave traders in the past though. In 1862 the Peruvians came here, abducted 1000 men and sent them as slaves to the guano farms*. Less than 30 came back to the island alive. By killing those men, among whom were included the leaders and scholars, the Peruvians irrevocably destroyed a part of the Easter Island culture. Their ancestor’s tablets have still not been deciphered to this day, leaving a cloud of mystery hanging over the island. The origin of the people is one of the most important of the remaining unsolved mysteries, although researchers seem to agree on the theory of the arrival of Polynesian sailors. The first faces we come across on the island do nothing to dispel that idea.
Having travelled nearly 4,000 kilometres to reach this back of beyond, it would be unthinkable to give up on landing now for fear of the swell. After anchoring Tara at a depth of 23 meters, we tackle the waves in an inflatable dinghy in order to set foot ashore. Is it the magic of the island, or because most of us are living out a childhood dream or is it the pure pleasure of being back on ‘terra firma’? For whatever reason, at that precise moment when we land at Hanga Roa, there is a shared emotion visible on our faces.

It’s a short stopover, two days, then we must get back to sea. As soon as we land the crew members go off to explore the island. Some of the researchers will have a little more time to visit this 180 km2 triangle though. For Lee, Leila, Franck, Mélissa and Marcella, their journey on Tara ends here, but they will continue the scientific adventure of Tara Oceans in their laboratories.

A few steps from the small fishing port of Hanga Roa where we moored the inflatable dinghy, are five Moai, set on a large platform, facing towards their people. Despite the numerous photographs we’ve all seen of these sculptures hewn from the volcanic rock, our encounter is magical. The sacred nature of the place and the powerful expressions of the gigantic Moai with their white eyes create a lot of emotion. One can imagine even the last of the Nihilists bowing down before these watchdogs with their backs to the sea. The Moai and especially the way they were transported from the quarry of the volcano to the coast are among the greatest mysteries of the island. Rapa Nui has more than 600 giants.

The night and its starry veil have covered Easter Island. The time has come for us to leave this little corner of paradise on earth and return to our anchorage. Our heads full of images, we can’t wait for a new day to dawn on Rapa Nui.

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