Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, lies more than 3700km away from the Chilean coast. From the plane window it appears, like a small dimple in the vast expanse of Pacific Ocean.
Visiting had been a lifelong dream, so we decided to see as much as possible on our week-long trip by exploring on foot. The island is small enough to make this entirely realistic, and there are well maintained walking trails along the coast and around the volcanoes of the interior.
Our coastal camp-site had spectacular views, and was a short walk from the town. After setting up our tents we studied the map, which was magical enough in itself, small stone heads punctuating the coastline between caves, rock-art and palm trees that indicated secluded beaches.
Embarking on early morning hikes we loaded our bags with picnics, bottled water and maps. Because there is only one inhabited town, Hanga Roa, we passed hours without seeing a soul. The best thing about exploring in this way is the opportunity to discover loads of things that aren't accessible by car, including the sites of ancient villages and unique examples of rock art.
Approaching the ahus (ceremonial platforms), we had time and distance to appreciate the moai (statues) from afar, and then be amazed by their size close up. There are several lesser visited ahus that might not be included on a whistle-stop coach tour, their remoteness making them all the more magical. Some of these moai still lay toppled on the ground, giving a sense of the island's troubled past.
A few of the elaborate cave networks running underground can be entered and explored. Formed by lava flows, their mouths appear all over the windswept, grassy fields that make up most of the landscape.
As we walked along stretches of coast we noticed wild horses roaming free in the distance, clumsy foals following behind. Small birds perched on the heads of statues, oblivious to it all, and we had the privilege of spotting two sea turtles swimming close to a rocky cove.
In the evenings, we sat and watched the sun set behind five of the incredible moai that stood near the camp-site. As the sky turned all kinds of pink and gold they became looming silhouettes, like fierce giants guarding the shore. Walking in the dark, we viewed the stone faces by torchlight and trekked to watch the sunrise behind the largest of the ahus, where fifteen unique moais stand at different heights with proud expressions on their weathered faces.
Climbing to the highest point on the island is one of the most rewarding walks. After getting lost and ending up at a pineapple farm we reached the summit, and could see the ocean in a complete circle around us.
The five extinct volcanoes on the island are perfect for hiking, with amazing views over the landscape and ahus. The most impressive is Rano Raraku, the slopes of which are covered in moai statues. Some are half buried in the ground, some half finished, having been abandoned as culture on the island transformed. It is incredible to see the crafting of the statues in their various stages of completion. The buried moai are like great stone giants making an escape from the underworld, their immense heads and torsos protruding from the grass.