Rapa Nui National Park

Rapa Nui National Park: UNESCO Word Heritage Site
Rapa Nui National Park: UNESCO Word Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription:

Rapa Nui National Park is a protected Chilean wildlife area located in Easter Island, which concentrates the legacy of the Rapa Nui culture. This culture displayed extraordinary characteristics that are expressed in singular architecture and sculpture within the Polynesian context. Easter Island, the most remote inhabited island on the planet, is 3,700 kilometers from the coast of continental Chile and has an area of 16,628 hectares while the World Heritage property occupies an area of approximately seven thousand hectares, including four nearby islets.

The island was colonized toward the end of the first millennium of the Christian era by a small group of settlers from Eastern Polynesia, whose culture manifested itself between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries in great works such as the ahu –ceremonial platforms- and carved moai – colossal statues- representing ancestors. Rapa Nui National Park most prominent attributes are the archaeological sites. It is estimated that there are about 900 statues, more than 300 ceremonial platforms and thousands of structures related to agriculture, funeral rites, housing and production, and other types of activities. Prominent among the archaeological pieces are the moai that range in height from 2 m to 20 m and are for the most part carved from the yellow–brown lava tuff, using simple picks (toki) made from hard basalt and then lowered down the slopes into previously dug holes. There are many kinds of them and of different sizes: those in the process of being carved, those in the process of being moved to their final destinations –the ahu-, those being torn down and erected. The quarries (Rano Raraku and others) are invaluable evidence of the process of their carving. The ahu vary considerably in size and form; the most colossal is the Ahu Tongariki, with its 15 moai. There are certain constant features, notably a raised rectangular platform of large worked stones filled with rubble, a ramp often paved with rounded beach pebbles, and leveled area in front of the platform. Also extremely valuable are the rock art sites (pictographs and petroglyphs), which include a large variety of styles, techniques, and motifs. Other archaeological sites are the caves, which also contain rock art. There is also a village of ceremonial nature named Orongo which stands out because of its location and architecture. While it has not attracted as much attention, the housing and productive structures are of extreme interest.

Rapa Nui

Overview of Rapa Nui

Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is the most isolated island on Earth. It is 2,000 km from the nearest spec of land. Famed for its stone heads, or moai, it is one of the wonders of the world.

The photo above is of the only moai on Easter Island to be restored with the white coral eyes. The eyes were discovered after a toppled moai was moved and the eyes found underneath. All upright moai on the island, save for those found still intact at the quarry, have been restored since 1950.

Location and What to Expect

Rapa Nui is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which is one of the most remote UNESCO sites in the world due to limited accessibility. It is located 3,600 km west of Chile. To go to Rapa Nui, you must fly to Santiago – the capital city of Chile. This is the closest flight connection available for anyone wishing to visit this national park. The flight from Santiago will take about 5 hours to reach Easter Island.

In terms of climate, Rapa Nui features a subtropical climate. You can expect the site to be windy especially when you are near the volcano summits. Since it is located below the equator, the temperature in Rapa Nui isn’t as hot. Those who have visited the site describe the climate as moderate to pleasant.

The average temperature is at 25-degree Celsius from December to February. The winter is from June to August with the temperature hitting its lowest at 17-degree Celsius.

Tourism on Easter Island

Rapa NuiSince the expansion of the airport landing stretch in Easter Island, there is also a subsequent rise in tourism in Rapa Nui National Park. Since 2012, Rapa Nui receives an average visit of 70,000 each year! And yet, the tourism industry continues to see up to 20% growth each year. The tourism industry is, therefore, the biggest source of economy for the island.

The locals who live on the island live a modest lifestyle. The power in Hanga Roa is generated using diesel engines. The access to power is cut once a week (for two hours or more at a time) for maintenance or failure issues. The internet access in the island is also very limited.

How to Get to Easter Island

There are only two places which have flights to Easter Island: Tahiti and Santigo, Chile. Most people fly from Chile as it is easier to reach than Tahiti, but Tahiti is a very viable option.

There are a few cruise ships which stop at Rapa Nui every year, but they are few and far between. Given its remote location, there are no stops for the ship for several days on either side of reaching the island.

About the Moai Statues

Rapa Nui

The moai statues are the most distinctive features of the Rapa Nui National Park. These are large megaliths that were built during 1400 – 1650 AD. The natives of the island were attributed to having created these massive megalith statues.

Even though the statues appear to be only heads, these are actually full-bodied statues. The majority of the statues are around 10 meters in height but the rest of the bodies were covered in soil exposing only the heads. They were built around this location near volcano Rano Raraku due to the access to tuff, of which the statues were made out of.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Chile.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Last updated: Jul 28, 2017 @ 10:58 am

Top 10 Natural World Heritage Sites

Here is a list of the my 10 favorite UNESCO listed Natural Heritage sites I’ve visited on my trip, which at this point includes the Pacific, Australia and East/SE Asia. I’m sure this list will be updated at some point in the future as I visit more sites.

10) East Rennell – Solomon Islands

A hidden beach on Rennell
A hidden beach below the cliffs on Rennell
East Rennell is probably the least visited place I’ve been to on my trip. I was told that the island gets about a dozen tourists who visit each year. The east part of the island is a large lake and is home to the largest diversity of birds in the Pacific. Getting to Rennell requires a great deal of commitment. Getting to the Solomons is difficult. Getting to Rennell is difficult on top of that. Getting to the east end of the island from the landing strip in the west is a car ride that resulted in EIGHT flat tires. There is no organized tourism of any sort on the island. There are two “lodges” where you can stay, but it is very informal.

9) Purnululu National Park – Australia

Bee Hive Domes of Purnululu
Bee Hive Domes of Purnululu
Next to East Rennell, Purnululu is the most difficult to reach park on the list. It is located three hours off of the main road from a roadhouse, which is itself in the middle of nowhere in Western Australia. The most well known feature of the park are the bee hive domes, but there are other erosional features in the park which are equally as stunning. The park was unknown to the world outside of local aborigines and ranchers till the mid 1980’s. It is the highlight of any trip through the Kimberlies on the way from Darwin to Perth.

8) Kinabalu National Park – Malaysia

Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia
Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia
Kinabalu is the 4th highest peak in SE Asia. The only reason this doesn’t rank higher is because it was raining in the park during my time there, so I wasn’t able to climb to the summit or explore the park as much as I would have liked to. In addition to the majesty of the mountain (which really did take my breath away the first time we rounded a corner and saw it) the park is home to many varieties of rare pitcher plants and the largest flower in the world, the Rafelasia. Borneo orangoutangs can be found in the park as well.

7) Uluru/Kata-Tjuta National Park – Australia

The Moon over Uluru
The Moon over Uluru
Located in the center of Australia, getting to Uluru is a chore in itself. It is perhaps the single most popular Australian icon after the kangaroo. Uluru is described as the world’s largest monolith (however that is defined) and is a sacred location to the local aboriginal people. Nearby Kata-Tjuta can literally be seen from Uluru and is in many respects more impressive than its more well known sibling. Kata-Tjuta is higher and split open so you can hike inside the rocks. Sunset and sunrise on Uluru is an experience to behold as the color of the rock changes throughout the course of the day. Walking around the rock will take you about an hour or two and will give you are real feel for its size.

6) Volcanoes National Park – Hawaii

Driving through a lava field
Driving through a lava field
It is hard not to be impressed with an active volcano. I had the pleasure of visiting Volcanoes National Park several years ago with a geology group from the University of Minnesota. Having a geologists appreciation of the park made me enjoy it even more. Because it is active, what you see when you visit is very hit or miss. The two times I’ve been there Kilaeua didn’t have lava flowing on the surface. Within the last year it has been flowing. I’d love to go back when Mauna Loa erupts, which it is believed may happen soon. I’d also love to take a helicopter ride over the area where the lava meets the sea.

5) Ha Long Bay – Vietnam

Ha Long Bay at Sunset
Ha Long Bay at Sunset
While you are cruising in Ha Long Bay, you can’t help by say “wow”. The limestone rock formations are reminded me of the rock islands of Palau, but on a much larger scale. Located four hours outside of Hanoi by bus, Ha Long Bay is very accessible to tourists. Most packages will let you stay one or two nights on a junk and may include a visit to a nearby national park. Ha Long has become very touristy which is the only thing which takes away from the atmosphere.

4) Yakushima – Japan

Cedar Forest of Yakushima
Cedar Forest of Yakushima
This is another park which is not very well known. Many of the people I know who live in Japan have never been here and some have never even heard of it. Yakushima is a small island about an hour boat ride south of Kagoshima. The island is very mountainous with elevations over 1,000m. The World Heritage parts of the island are the cedar forests high up in the mountains. Given its elevation it is often in the clouds which makes for a very magical experience. The time I spent in Yakushima resulted in vastly more quality photos than I take in most locations. Yakushima was the inspiration for the animated film “Princess Mononoke”.

3) Te Wahipounamu – New Zealand

Sun coming out on Milford Sound
Sun coming out on Milford Sound
This is better known as the Fjordlands National Park and includes Milford Sound. In addition to the fjords, the area also includes Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers. Much of the stunning beauty of the South Island can be found in this area. Other than Patagonia in South America, you will not find a landscape like this anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere. The day I was at Milford Sound it had been raining for 24 hours straight prior to my arrival and I was treated to a symphony of waterfalls on the side of the fjord. I also took a helicopter ride to the top of Franz Joseph Glacier which was one of the highlights of my trip to New Zealand.

2) Kakadu National Park – Australia

Sunset at Kakadu
Sunset at Kakadu
I had previously described Kakadu as the Australian Yellowstone. Since I was there, my opinion of the park has only increased. Unlike much of Australia which is dry and desolate, Kakadu is a veritable supermarket of wild game. Wetlands waterfowl, saltwater crocodiles, wonderful rock formations, and enormous termite mounds are all over the park. I was there during the wrong time of the year, but there are also 4×4 trips to some beautiful waterfalls. On top of all that, there is a cultural aspect to the park with some of the oldest Aboriginal rock art in Australia.

1) Gunung Mulu National Park – Malaysia

The forest and mountains of Mulu
The forest and mountains of Mulu
This might surprise people as my number one because they may not have heard of the park, but it surpassed my expectations in almost every way. There is a lot to Mulu. The most obvious thing is the Borneo rainforest, which you are smack dab in the middle of. There are no roads which go to Mulu. You have to fly in or take a boat. On top of the ranforest there are the caves. Deer Cave is the largest cavern in the world. It is enormous. They describe it as the volume of three St. Paul’s Cathedrals. In the cave live millions of bats which leave the cave in a flying river every night to go feed in the forest. There is trekking, mountain climbing, and enough stuff to keep you occupied for the better part of a week. I am really amazed that Borneo isn’t a bigger tourist attraction. This is ecotourism at its finest. The staff and facilities at Mulu are top notch.