Our voyage to the volcanoes of Pitcairn and French Polynesia started in Easter Island. This mythical island is an anthropological and geological dream. Three volcanoes rise from an almost unimaginably deep seafloor coalescing to form an island that is covered by the great statues of the Moais and the platforms on which they stood called Ahus.
Myself at Rano Kau
After a very lengthy flight with an overnight stop in the Chilean capital Santiago, we started our 1 and half day tour of Easter Island before joining our ship. Our first stop was the volcano of Rano Kau, on the summit of this volcano is a caldera that formed after a huge eruption that caused the volcano to collapse in on itself. On the crater rim is the only occurrence on the island of the stickier lava rhyolite. Built from this lava on the rim of the crater is Orongo village. These rhyolite huts housed the mystical ‘birdmen’. The birdman cult followed the overthrow of the royal families that built the Moai. In their ceremony the men had to climb down a 300m high cliff and swim out to the nearby rocky pinnacles and collect the first egg laid by seabirds that season.
The pinnacles the Birdmen swam to
Next we visited the Tahai Ceremony complex where we saw long houses, an ancient port and a Moai with white eyes and a red hat called a topknot. The topknot is made from a rock called scoria. The red colour that is so revered by the Polynesians, was caused by a fire fountain throwing lava into the air. This oxidised the iron in it and it fell to the ground as red scoria. All the topknots that have been made on Easter Island have come from one quarry in a red scoria cinder cone.
The Tahai Ceremony comples
The next day we travelled to a site called Vinapu, here it was possible to see Moai that had been toppled from the Ahu Tahira platform. The platform itself was made from very precisely fitting basalt slabs that led some early anthropologists to speculate the Moai could have been built by the Incas, but we now know they were built by the Polynesians.
The Rano Raraku quarry
From this site we journeyed along the south coast of the island passing many more archaeological sites and some fallen Moai that had been abandoned in transportation. We then reached the Rano Raraku quarry where the majority of the islands Moai had been calved from. This site is another geological phenomenon. It is a side vent of the main Poike Volcano, which forms the south east corner of the island. The crater inside Rano Raraku quarry is the result of a phreatomagmatic eruption caused when water reached the magma chamber, the resulting steam erupted forming the crater. The eruption also produced large quantities of ash that settled down to produce a rock called tuff. This is the only site on the island where tuff is found, and 830 out of the 887 discovered Moai have been calved from it. The site was wondrous. We walked past many Moai that have now been partially buried by the creeping soil. We also saw partially calved Moai in the walls of the quarry including a huge Moai that if it had been completed would have been the biggest ever calved. Additionally we saw the only discovered kneeling Moai named Tuku Turi.
Myself at Ahu Tongariki
From this site we could see Ahu Tongariki, a the largest ceremonial platform on Easter Island, which also has a important geological story to tell. In the 1960 a tsumani, that originated from an earthquake in mainland Chile, washed the Moai hundreds of metres inshore. This led to a Japanese company restoring the Ahu and Moai to their former glory. In total there are 15 Moai. One of them had the topknot positioned back, but it was decided better to keep the remaining ones on the floor.
From here we traveled to Anakena. Here is Easter Island’s only beach and there is another Ahu with Moai that are amazingly preserved because they had been buried in the sand. At this lovely site we had a sumptuous BBQ before returning to Hanga Roa to board our ship for our voyage towards Pitcairn and French Polynesia.