“Navel of the World”

Stunning Images from Easter Island

Photographer Chaney Kwak visited this remote island and found dramatic landscapes and ancient stone ruins.

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

Touted as the “navel of the world,” the minuscule island of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, harbors dramatic coastlines and mysterious stone moai that amaze visitors who venture to one of the most remote human settlements in the world. Chaney Kwak spent a week capturing gorgeous images around Easter Island.

 

by Chaney Kwak

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

Dawn breaks over Ahu Tongariki, the largest of the ahu at over 650 feet wide. Ahu, or stone platforms holding up the moai statues, remain tapu, or sacred and forbidden.

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

The enigmatic moai, carved between the 13th and 17th centuries, are engineering marvels. It remains uncertain how the stone statues, which weigh up to 95 tons, were transported across the mountainous terrain. A local legend says they walked.

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

A powerful tsunami in 1960 swept away Ahu Tongariki's 15 moai. They were restored to their current place in the ’90s.

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

The iconic statues, 887 of which have been found, are thought to be deified representations of ancestors. They always watch over the settlements that worshipped them.

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

The seven moai of Ahu Akivi are the only ones that look toward the ocean. During the spring and fall equinox they directly face the sunset.

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

Horses, both wild and tame, roam about the island freely ...

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

... as do cows.

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

The Pacific douses the island's dramatic coastlines ...

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

... but the daredevil surfers don't seem daunted.

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

Almost every moai was carved out of Rano Raraku, the volcanic quarry where nearly 400 incomplete statues remain partially buried.

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

Following the uprising that led the islanders to topple every moai in the 18th century, the crater of Rano Kau became the site of a new “Bird Man” religion.

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

In 1983 NASA opened a facility to monitor the Pacific Ocean's seismic activity. The island's sole runway is designated as an emergency landing site for the space shuttle.

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

The abandoned wool manufacturing plant of Williamson-Balfour Company bears witness to the island’s painful history. Following Chile’s annexation of Easter Island in the late 19th century, Rapa Nui natives were interned in the town of Hanga Roa while the rest of the island was turned into a vast sheep ranch. Only in 1966 did the locals receive full Chilean citizenship.

Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

Today, most residents choose to live in Hanga Roa, but ranches and small settlements dot the sparse island outside of town.

 

More from Condé Nast Traveler:

Where Do the Royals Vacation?

We Dare You to Walk Across These Bridges

Beautiful Hidden Beaches Around the World

The Most Luxurious 1st Class Cabins