Better known as Easter Island, following its discovery by Europeans in the 18th century, this land lost in the middle of the Pacific never ceases to bewitch its explorers.
The 900 or so Moai, giants that can exceed 10 meters in height, are the mute guardians of well-kept secrets, those of the Polynesians who landed here around 1200. According to legend, the founding king Hotu Matu’a was the first to set foot on the golden sands of the beautiful Anakena beach.
Under their volcanic tufa hat – the pukao – as red as their body is dark, they stare at visitors with their large orbits, once lined with white coral eyes with pupils of tufa or obsidian. The whole island exudes a mystical atmosphere.
From the top of Mount Terevaka – just over 500m high for this young 300,000-year-old volcano – the gaze follows the gentle curves of the ancient cones adorned with a mantle of grass swaying in the wind, punctuated here and there by a few trees. It embraces the whole of this 164 km2 confetti, up to the tip of the 3-million-year-old Poike volcano.
From Hanga Roa, the peaceful capital, you can walk to the impressive crater of Ranau Kau, 1600 m wide and studded with lakes covered with rushes – the totora – with colors as changeable as the sky.
An indentation opens up towards the sea, in its steep 300-metre rampart, which the contenders for the title of birdman used to climb. In August, they braved the terrible currents to swim to the islet of Motu Nui to bring back the first bird’s egg. A highly symbolic journey, led from the ceremonial village of Orongo, whose low basalt houses were built from the 17th century onwards, on the edge of the wind-beaten cliff.
The Pascuans had then abandoned the cult of the Moai, of which nearly 400 statues still sleep in their quarry, dug into the sides of the Rano Raraku volcano. At its foot lies the most imposing and best restored site: ahu Tongariki, whose fifteen effigies stand on a 200-meter-long platform.
Their silhouettes appear as Chinese shadows against the sky set ablaze by the rising sun. An unforgettable spectacle that makes time stand still.