RAPA NUI, EASTER ISLAND
‘Easter Island’ has always intrigued me. The small island itself is one of the most isolated and remote places I have ever visited, with some maps not even acknowledging its existence. The world famous Moai statues are carved heads of stone that were created from the island quarry of Rano Raraku. They stretch across the length and breadth of the island, casting their watchful gaze over its inhabitants, who now serve more as caretakers and restorers of this UNESCO heritage site than simple inhabitants.
The sheer scale of the statues is enough to create moments of breath taking wonder and amazement followed by the immediate thoughts of ‘how in the hell did they do this?!’ Like many ancient historical locations from around the world the Moai statues both amaze, astound and confuse.
Many of the islands Moai were found toppled off of their pedestals and as part of the islands restoration are now back in place. While this does help to give visitors an impression of what the island looked like in its stone headed, worshipped glory, I prefer the impression of the Moai in the quarry areas of the island as they are presumably left as they were abandoned years ago. Partially finished and forever trapped at the edge of their birth place in the mountainside.
Beneath the surface of the islands initial attractions there are many places that reveal its history with more subtle means. Caves dotted around the island hide paintings detailing the Bird-men (Tangata manu) and even outcrops overlooking the surrounding ocean display carvings featuring the Bird-man cult and their annual competition for island dwellers to collect the first eggs of a new season from the islet of Motu Nui, then climb the treacherous sea cliff of Rano Kau to the clifftop village of Orongo.
Exploring the island, discovering what sights await your every stop is like uncovering these amazing places first hand in your very own Indiana Jones style adventure. Of course you are joined by the usual tourist groups to disrupt those quiet, thoughtful moments but the island during my visit never seemed to be bustling. You could hire a bike or a car and simply find these magnificent archeological locations without the need for a guide and I think that is what made my experience so fulfilling. Self driven discovery in a place such as this, even if it was an illusion of the islands very character made the experience incredibly unique.
Reaching the top of the island on the rim of the dormant Volcano Rano Kau provides you with a view across the island and into the depths of this massive water filled crater. This is a stop on a well trodden tourist trail around the island although you do still get to experience the views by yourself for the majority of the time, imagining the devastating size of the eruptions that must have taken place early in the islands life.
After a day of exploring, sunset arrives bringing with it an even more dramatic light-show to conclude the day. The long shadows reach over the landscape in a golden light and are always a beautiful sight regardless of where you are in the world, but in this place, a world of stone heads and ancient, ever-watching eyes, it almost brings them to life in an otherworldly glow.
Exploring this place as the sunlight fades I began to appreciate the darkest and clearest night sky I think i’ve ever seen. The sky's black, encompassing canvas gave way to the faint glimmers of starlight slowly emerging from the heavens.
Connecting this earthly place to the stars above is something I wanted to photograph during my time here. Faces of stone made of the very islands core looking out to the stars above, worshipping them as they surveyed the island.
I decided on a beach location on the opposite end of the island to the town for this photograph as that way I could get the darkest night skies possible without any hints of light pollution. My alarm woke me at 3am, so I sleepily grabbed my gear and headed towards Anakena. It takes a little over 15 minutes to drive from one end of the Island to the other so when I arrived it was still the middle of the night and I was alone, stood in front of these amazing statues looking up at the stars.
I positioned my camera with the stars passing through the background of the image whilst the statues provided the foregrounding element of the islands most famous features.
As I sat there on the soft white sand my camera froze those minutes in time. Watching the stars gently move across the sky I imagined what had happened in this place years ago as I soaked up the atmosphere. It was just me in this place, this moment. The Moai, the sounds of the waves and the wild horses whinnying in the background provided an incredible experience that I feel lucky to have had all to myself.