I recently spent a week on Easter Island, which is usually only talked about for the monolithic moai. While ubiquitous and impressive, there are many other mysteries and interesting facts about the island and its history. Here are 6 things you probably didn’t know (that have nothing to do with the moai).
1. It’s actually called Rapa Nui (Big Rapa)
Rapa Nui is how the Polynesian islanders refer to themselves, their sub-tropical island and the language. The first European to record its existence, Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, baptized the island Paasch-Eyland (Easter Island; Isla de Pascua en español) since he “discovered” it on Easter Sunday 1722. It’s also referred to as Te Pito O Te Henua (the Navel of the World) and Mata ki te rangi (Eyes Looking to the Sky).
2. Mataveri Airport has an emergency NASA Runway
For its tiny size, Rapa Nui has a massive airstrip built by NASA to use in case of an emergency shuttle landing, thanks to its strategic location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There was controversy around the decision in the 1980s, but it was never used for that purpose.
3. There are no stables on the island
Visitors will quickly notice the roaming horses and cattle as soon as they leave Hanga Roa (the only inhabited town). While they all have owners, obvious from the branding, the animals enjoy all-they-can-eat grass and weeds.
Internet connection is possible, but the entire island shares 75 Mbps, roughly equal to a few cell phone plans in a developed country. Hotels/guesthouses may have wifi capability, but don’t expect it to work most of the time.
5. Local perks
While Rapa Nui is officially Chilean territory, only Rapa Nui are entitled to own land on the island. Foreigners (and Chileans) looking to stay for a long time have to rent. Also, while it might be tempting to pitch a tent under the open sky, only locals (anyone who a ranger would recognize) are permitted to camp on the island. Locals are also exempt from paying taxes, which cushions the high cost of living.
On Rapa Nui, Birdman refers to a cult, not the Oscar winning movie. While there is still a lot of mystery shrouding the religion, it was being practiced in the 1860s when Christian missionaries began to suppress it. Every year there was a competition where contestants were revealed in dreams to prophets, who would then select their hopu (proxy competitor) to swim to an islet offshore (Motu Nui – pictured above) to collect the first sooty tern egg of the season, and bring it back intact, crowning the new Tangata Manu (Birdman competition winner). While it was surely an honor to be a Hopu, it came at a price: potential death by shark attack, drowning, falling, etc. There is a historically inaccurate version of the competition in the 1994 film Rapa-Nui.