Easter Island - Luxury Travel Magazine
|By: Tom Hall and Jemima Johnson-Gilbert, Issue 42 – Autumn 2010|
|(Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa – Easter Island)|
|THIS YEAR A NEW, LUXURY AND RADICALLY GREEN RESORT OPENS ON EASTER ISLAND; A FITTING ADDITION TO SUCH A VULNERABLE LOCATION WRITES TOM HALL.|
|Why did the inhabitants of Easter Island carve and transport those massive, haunting statues surrounding the island? While some of the island’s most urgent mysteries have been solved (we know now how those statues moved) Easter Island remains the subject of curiosity, speculation and ever intensifying interest to travellers.|
It is over 3,000 kilometres from the nearest population centres of Tahiti and Chile making it one of the most isolated places on Earth. A triangle of volcanic rock in the South Pacific, it is difficult but not impossible to get there and it’s never far from the wish-list of travelers who have explored almost every other corner of the world.
Known as Rapa Nui to locals and Isla de Pascua to today’s stewards, Chile, it has fascinated visitors ever since European explorers first visited there. Those pioneering explorers, who included Captain Cook, brought back tales of colossal statues – the enigmatic Moai – some gazing out to sea, most gazing inland - and a Pacific culture steeped in myths and legend. The downfall of the civilization which had once thrived there, evident in the complete deforestation of the island and toppled Moai, may even offer clues for us as we wrestle with our own environmental conundrums today.
There are two compelling reasons to make 2010 the year you finally tick Easter Island off your wish list. On July 11 a total solar eclipse will bring over four minutes of daylight darkness to the land of the island. It will be one of the few landfalls for this most magical of astronomical phenomenon. 2010 is also the year that a new and radically green resort opens on the island.
Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa is the new incarnation of the Hotel Hangaroa, a property intimately linked to the history of the island. For many years this was literally the only place to stay on the island, and famous names like Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and Thor Heyerdahl stayed there having been captivated by the mysteries of the island. While the number of visitors was once a trickle, today the island is more popular than ever. Over 50,000 people visited the island last year and tough subjects, such as limiting the number of visitors in future years, are on the lips of those who are involved in the stewardship of Easter Island.
Waste, water, power and even the behavior of tourists threatens the island’s unique habitat. (In 2008 a Finnish tourist provoked an international outcry for hacking the earlobe off one of the Moai statues for a souvenir. He was let off with a fine, but the focus on preserving the magic of the place remains.)
Few who make the journey fail to be moved. You don’t have to be an archaeologist or anthropologist to come away with a profound sense of the reverent pride the 3,000 inhabitants of Rapa Nui have for their unique land. It is from these foundations of respecting the land that the new Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa, which will be fully open in June, seeks to build on. In doing so, it seeks to incorporate a thoroughly modern approach to running a luxury resort in a vulnerable location like Easter Island.
“Conserving natural resources and the archaeological and spiritual heritage of Easter Island is the foundation of the philosophy of Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa,” says Andrea Fernandez from the hotel. This is apparent in both the eco-credentials on display here – from the hotel generating its own electricity via a turbine powered by the Pacific breezes to plans to minimise waste and water use.
Community involvement is a key part of the hotel’s strategy. Most of the hotel and restaurant staff members will be from Easter Island, meaning the resort is bringing jobs to the island and ensuring the Polynesian culture on offer at the hotel is real and any welcome offered guests is genuine. The hotel has 69 rooms and six suites built of natural materials like cypress logs, clay and volcanic rock. The 25-acre resort aims to recreate the shape of the Orongo ceremonial village on the southwestern tip of the island.
Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa aims squarely at the luxury traveler. The Mana Vai spa offers a range of therapies, massages and treatments, many based on natural products from the island. The resort pool is set amidst tropical native plants, flowers and trees. The resort will keep a discreet profile despite a superb location midway between the airport and Hanga Roa town.
Chillean poet Pablo Neruda described Easter Island as “a secret island, a rose...of purification, a golden navel”. It is likely that on your visit to this remote, mysterious place, which is emblematic of the world’s environmental fragility, you’ll feel that not much has changed since Neruda visited.
|THE MYSTERY OF THE MOAI STATUES|
|Since explorer Jacob Roggeveen discovered Easter Island in 1722, questions about its peculiar barren landscape and the demise of its ancient people have remained unanswered. Once covered in thick forests that supported a thriving population, Easter Island is now devoid of significant vegetation, and the only remains of its ancient civilisation are monolithic stone figures that tower ominously above the barren landscape. Known as the Moai statues, the figures are deliberately placed around the island most facing inland. To this day, scientists and researchers have been unable to explain exactly who the inhabitants of Easter Island were and why a civilization capable of creating a gallery of statues from volcanic rock managed to self-destruct. The statues themselves are also a mystery. How were they built? And why?|
Between 1000 AD and 1650 AD, it is believed that the people of Easter Island, thought to be Polynesian, carved these figures to be symbols of power to honour influential chiefs and to embody sacred spirits. Once constructed, the figures were placed at locations across the island and then later ritually dismantled and replaced with even larger ones, some over 12 feet tall and weighing up to 80 tonnes. We now know that at the time the Moai statues were built, palm trees that grew up to 80 feet existed on the island. It was these the Polynesians used as rollers, along with the manpower of between 50-150 people, to transport the figures across the island. So at least that mystery has been solved.