The Rapa Nui National Park was created in 1935 and is located in the island of Pascua, having a surface of 7,130 ha., which means the 44% of the territory of the island.
The island of Pascua has a recent volcanic origin (Plio-Pleistocene), and it's structure is dominated by three big volcanoes, the Maunga Terevaka (511 meters above sea level), Poike (370 masl) and Rano Kao (400 masl), and about 70 smaller crater of a parasitic kind such the Rano Raraku, Puna Pau, Maunga Orito and the Rano Aroi. The grounds of the island have a volcanic origin and have slight undulations with hard cliffs in some edges to the sea, specially in the edges of the Rano Kao and Poike volcanoes.
The island does not have permanent flows of water; only some broken terrain has sporadic drippings depending on the abundance and plentifulness of the rainfalls. There are three lacustrian bodies in the craters of Rano Aroi, Rano Raraku and Rano Kao. However, it has a good availability of subterranean waters.
The Park has altitudes ranging from 0 to 511 meters above sea level at the peak of the Maunga Terevaka volcano.
The weather is typically marine of subtropical characteristics, with an average relative humidity of 77%. It shows rains during all the year with an annual average of 1,140 mm., being May the most rainy month and September the drier one. The annual average temperature is of 20.6ºC. The maximum average temperatures (23.3º C.) are produced in March and the minimum average temperatures (17.9º C.) are produced in August.
Cráter de Volcán
The administration of the Park corresponds to the Corporación Nacional Forestal - CONAF - it is in Hanga Roa in the Mataveri Otai sector. Besides, there are three post of guard in Orongo, Rano Raraku and Anakena.
Only in the beach of Anakena there are camping and food areas, with 7 sites with table-benches, gridiron and rubbish collectors and 5 camping sites with the same infrastructure and with sanitary installations.
There is an interesting interpretative path about 40 min. walking distance to the ceremonial village of Orongo in the Rano Kao volcano, and two paths of excursion. The first one in the Rano Raraku volcano, from where you can see the quarries where the Moai were made, and many of these statues already finished to their definitive destiny; and the other the Anakena, with a wonderful journey by the coast of the island.
In Hanga Roa there are many hotels and hostelries which offer lodging and food. Here you can find the rest of the services too.
Amongst the recreational activities possible to accomplish on the island are hikes, excursions, visits to the main cultural recourses, swimming and activities of beach, surface and underwater fishing, observation scuba diving, cavalcades (the rental of horseback riding is in Hanga Roa).
Vista a un ahu
But doubtless the main attraction of the island of Pascua are its monumental statues or moai which made it famous universally.
An island of mystery
There are two theories about the origin of the inhabitants of Pascua, one of them, completely rejected, talks about a South American origin based basically on two facts:
The presence of camote (Ipomoea batatas) (Kumnara in Pascuense), a plant of American origin and the similarities in the constructions of some walls of ahu, specially in the ahu Tahiri in Vinapu (south coast) and in the ahu Tepeu (west coast). It is supposed that the Americans had more than a contact with the Polynesic cultures, which would justify the presence of the camote.
The second theory which has a much more scientific base talks about the Polynesic origin of the Rapa Nui race. According to the legend of the Pascua population, the island was settled by the Ariki (King) Hotu Matu'a and a group of followers, who came from the island of Hiva. The existing proofs indicate the IV or V A.C. as the most probable date of arrival, assuming that the settlers came from the Marquesas islands in very big piraguas.
The main proofs of the Polynesic origin indicate that the ahu are, at least in their basic structure and in their function (veneration of deified ancestors), very similar to the existing Marae in the Polynesic islands, the anthropometric features of the Pascuenses indicate a relation with the races of the Polynesic triangle.
On the other hand, there are many species of vegetables which have their origin in the Polynesia.
Finally in the island of Pascua there are some small snails inherent and exclusive of the Polynesia which surely traveled as tramps with the navigators when they transported plants with soil. Maybe this presence, despite of its lack of importance, is the most conclusive proof of the origin of Rapa Nui.
In whatever way they arrived, the Pascuenses developed themselves absolutely isolated from the rest of the world, so the cultural patterns were transformed and some features changed, in this way the Polynesic Marae from being a big paved esplanade with small erect stones which represented the ancestor it was transformed into a coarse esplanade with enormous monolithic statues which represented the deified ancestors.
The social structure of the islanders would explain the presence of almost 250 ahu and almost 1,000 moai. The Rapa Nui society was divided into families (mata) that occupied different sectors of the island, every one of which had their part of the coast. Every familiar group built their ahu and installed in them the Moais, which represented their most important ancestors. Always looking the village with their backs to the sea. Looking at the town they transmitted their maná or spiritual force. The Ahu was the religious, politic and cultural center of every familiar group. In front of the ahu there was a esplanade where religious rites and other communitary activities are celebrated. In front of the esplanade were the houses, in the front part the most important persons and back the rest of the family and the dependencies (hencoop, manavai, etc.). The houses, called boat houses (hare paenga) have an oval-extended shape with bases of stone and covered with weft of rods, branches and leaves.
The social control of the many families of the island was exercised by a king (ariki), who was supposed to be descentent of Hotu Matu'a, so he had divine origin.
The cult of the ancestors, represented in bigger and bigger statues, needed a big number of manual labor in the quarries of Rano Raraku for the production of the moai and pukaos (hairdos of red dross produced in the quarry of Puna Pau) and in the systems of transportation, so the manual labor destined to the agricultural production and to the fishing decreased, this produced a strong starvation and a revolution which finished with the order, stopping the work in the quarries and starting fights among clans, destroying the moais (to avoid the ancestor's mana to the enemies). Till all of them were knocked down. This crisis happened during the XVI and XVIII centuries. The fights reduced the population and the starvation motivated the apparition of cannibalism.
When it ended the practice of veneration of ancestors and the moai were all destroyed in the ground, a new religion was born, the cult of the Birdman or "Tangata Manu".
This cult had its center in the ceremonial village of Orongo (next to the crater of the Rano Kao volcano) and consisted in that a representative of every family competed to obtain the first egg of the manutara (Gaviotín pascuense (Sterna lunata)), which made that the chief of the lineage of the winner received the title of Tangata manu, which meant a big power. The title lasted a whole year.
To the collection of the egg, the competitors must go down abrupt cliffs (from Orongo to the sea), and cross by swimming to the islets of Motu Iti and Motu Nui (where the manutara nested); steal the first egg, come back swimming and go up the cliffs without breaking their precious testimony. Many died in the cliffs or were attacked by sharks during the swim to and from the islets.
The end of isolation
Jacob Roggewen, discovered the island on April 6th of 1722, on the day of Easter so it received the name of island of Pascua. The natives called their island Rapa Nui, which means "Gran Rapa" (Rapa: name of another island) or Te Pito Te Henua, which means "the navel of the world". This occurred during the beginning of the civil wars. Still there were many standing moai.
48 years later, in 1770 the Spaniard San Lorenzo and Santa Rosalía ships visited the island . Later the same happened with the English captain James Cook (1774) and the French La Pérouse (1786), all of them telling that there were many knocked down statues but there were some still standing.
In 1815 Kotzebue did not see the standing statues seen by Cook and La Pérouse. However, in 1838 the admiral Du Petit-Thouars saw in the west coast a moai, which seemed to be the last one standing.
Between 1859 and 1862, many incursions of Peruvian pro-slavery ships transported a big part of the islanders to work as slaves in the obtaining of guano of the Chincha islands. In 1864 the few surviving slaves came back from Peru, which were infected with pests such as the smallpox that decreased the island population. In 1877 only there were 111 inhabitants in the island.
Moais aún en las canteras
The most interesting of Rapa Nui
Among the sites of biggest archaeological interest and beauty are:
Ceremonial Village of Orongo: Located in the top of the Rano Kao volcano, next to its crater. There is a self guided path to visit the houses of stone and the wonderful petroglyphs, there are beautiful views of the lagoon inside the crater and of the sea, where you can see three rocky islets, the Motu Kao Kao, Motu Iti and Motu Nui.
Journey to the island: You will see many ahu with the knocked down statues and many of them broken, apart from curious hencoops of stones, boathouses, petroglyphs, and Manavai (hollows in the ground surrounded by stones used for agriculture and other manifestations of the Rapa Nui culture).
Beach of Anakena: The only one beach of sand of the island (there is another small beach called Ovahe next to Anakena). Next to the beach there are two reconstructed ahu . In the area there are planted coconut palms and camping and snack bars as well as post of guard. A beach of warm waters apt for bathing.
Quarry of the Rano Raraku volcano: A quarry where the moai were carved. You can see statues in different stages of elaboration. From the top of the volcano there is a wonderful view of the lake of the crater and of the biggest and most attractive ahu of the island, Tongariki, recently reconstructed.
Tahai Ceremonial Center: Located in Hanga Roa, it has two ahu and the reconstructed foundations of a boathouse (hare paenga), in a cared surround.
Puna Pau Quarry: A place where the hairdo of red dross of the Moai were made, there are many which were in their way to be definitively located.
Ana Kai Tangata Cave: In the town near Mataveri, there is a cave with paintings of birds in its roof.
Ahus: You must visit the most representative Ahu. Among the restaured visit the Tongariki, Anakena, Tahai and Akivi. Among the non-restored visit that of Vinapu (with a wonderful wall that remembers the constructions of the Incas of Machu Pichu), that of Tepeu (very big, with wonderful walls and numerous boathouses of large dimensions) and some of the existing in the island.
Tunnels of Lava: In many places of the island, there exist tunnels under the lava especially in the bottom of the Maunga Terevaka volcano that makes an interesting visit, specially the Cave of the Dos Ventanas. Some of these tunnels have fallen down and inside of them there are many species of flora.
Submarine view: It is worth diving of apnea especially in the sector of La Perouse island, with a beautiful submarine surround with coral and many colorful fishes.
Flora y Fauna of the Island
Despite of its subtropical weather, unlike the other Polynesic islands. The island of Pascua presents a minimum ecological complex and a big poverty in its floristic diversity. The 90% of the surface of the island is a dry layer with a herbaceous strata mainly composed by introduced gramineous, among which there are thickets and small forests with exotic species too.
Recent paleobotanic researches have demonstrated that in the past in the islands there were woody lands of importance, long thickets and meadowlands of grasses and ferns. 212 species of plants have been identified (extinguished and present) of which 46 are native plants and 166 introduced.
Among the most interesting species of the island of Pascua are:
The toromiro (Sophora toromiro), palma de pascua (Paschalococcus disperta) and three species of gramineous (Axonopus paschalis, Danthonia paschalis and Paspalum forsterianum) as endemic species.
Extinguished arboreous species such as the toromiro (Sophora toromiro), palma de pascua (Paschalococcus disperta) and the peralillo (Coprosma sp.). 16 species of ferns, some known as "nehe nehe" (Asplenium adiantoides, A. obtusatum, Doodia paschalis and Microlepia strigosa), Matu'a Pu'a (Polypodium scolopendria), "tia pito" (Ophioglossum coriaceum and O. reticulatum) and "atua" (Vittaria elongata), and 8 species without name of the genera (Thelypteris, Diplazium, Elaphoglossum, Polystichum, Davallia and Psilotum).
The fauna of terrestrial vertebrates of the island of Pascua is very poor. In relation to the mammals only there are introduced species such as rats (Rattus rattus), large web footed rats (guarenes) (Rattus norvegicus) and mice (Mus musculus), the same happens with terrestrial birds such as doves (Columba livia), house sparrows (Passer domesticus), chi-mangos (Milvago chimango), partridges (Nothoprocta perdicaria) and finches (Diuca diuca).
In the case of the terrestrial reptiles there are two autochthonic species, the Moko uru-uru kahu (Lepidodactylus lugubris) and Moko Uriuri (Ablepharus boutoni).
In the sea the richness is different, Pascua counts on a subtropical sea with corals where numerous other animals live.
The fishes of Pascua are 111 species of which 97 are coastal species. The families best represented are Labridae (13 sp), Muraenidae (7 sp) Chaetodontidae (7 sp) and Holocentridae (6 sp). Also to be mentioned are the lobster of Pascua, locally called Hakarana very appreciated by its size and taste.
On the other hand, the coasts are visited by some marine reptiles such as the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochis imbricata), green turtle (Chelonia mydas and Ch. japonica) and the sea viper (Pelamys platurus).
Besides, there are 11 species of marine birds, which apart from living in the island, nest in it. Some of these birds such as the Manutara, Tavake or Kena have been important in the commune of Rapa Nui.
* Respect the archaeological recourses of the island. There are beautiful copies in the local market.
* Use light cloths but bring a jacket to protect yourself from the common cloudbursts that are common on the island.
How to get there
The island of Pascua is in front of Caldera in the latitude 27º 09' south and the longitude 109º 27' west. From the administrative point of view it is in the Commune and Province of island of Pascua, depending of the Fifth Region. It is the most distant island from other lands of the world. It is located at 3,700 km. from the American continent, at 4,600 km. from Tahiti and at 7,000 km. from New Zealand.
The most common access to the island is by air by way of LAN Chile with two weekly flights. The trip is from the Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez From Santiago to the airport of Mataveri, which covers 3,700 km. that lasts 6 hours.
After Pascua the plane leads to Papeete, capital of Tahiti.
By way of ship the trip lasts 6 days from Valparaíso to Hanga Roa.
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