Setting off on a beautiful sunny morning, our first day on the island we were hiking up the hillside to see the crater lake of Rano Kau and the ceremonial village of Orongo.
The swells were still huge, and as we left the hostel for our walk, we saw a large number of the local community all gathered on the point, looking down at the rocks. We went over to have a look, thinking they were there to watch the huge waves, but we looked down to see a fishing boat broken up on the rocks below. We later learnt that sadly the fisherman didn’t make it.
Our hike wasn’t the steepest climb we’d done in recent weeks, but not having done any serious walking since Patagonia, we certainly felt it. It was a hot and humid uphill climb through shrubs, grasslands and Eucalyptus trees, with views out across the ocean and back to Hanga Roa. The familiar smells of the Eucalyptus trees and the ocean breeze reminding us of Australia.
Once we reached the top, we were rewarded with views of Rano Kau. Rano Kau crater lake is a stunning and unusual piece of natural beauty, the perfect place to stop and relax for a while after the walk. Lonely Planet describes Rano Kau as looking like a ‘witches cauldron’, which is a good description.
The next stop was the Orongo ceremonial village, a short walk from Rano Kau around the top of the crater.
The views from the village were amazing, as it overlooks some of Rapa Nui’s only offshore islands (motus), including Motu Nui, Motu Iti and Motu Kau Kau. The houses here were built into the side of the slope, designed with walls of horizontally overlapping stone slabs and earth covered arched roofs.
The village was the base for the Birdman cult, who worshiped the god Makemake, which rose in popularity in the 18th &19th century taking the place of the Moai religion (more on this to come).
Each year a competition took place to determine the Tangata-manu (or Birdman) for the year ahead. The winner was the first man to return to the village with an unbroken egg from the Manutara (Sooty Tern bird), who nest on the nearby offshore islands. Not as easy as it sounds, as it required leaving from the village down the vertical cliffs, and swimming through the shark infested waters to the islands to get the egg. Many men died in the attempt, either falling to their death down the cliffs, drowning or being eaten by sharks. The religion was eventually phased out when the missionaries arrived in the late 1800s.
One of the most decorated Moai also used to stand at this sight, but it now resides in the British Museum after explorers in 1868 decided to take it as a gift for Queen Victoria. There wasn’t any information provided on what the islanders received in exchange, if it was given away, or taken, but based on it’s name Hoahakananai’a (The Stolen Friend), I’d guess it was the last.