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FarSouthExp @ Fat Birder / WAND

We are Birders - We are Leica

We are Birders - We are Leica

2013.05.03 06:00:00
Introduction to Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

Nearly 2,000 nautical miles of Pacific Ocean separate Rapa Nui from the American continent, thus Easter Island is geographically the most isolated of Chile’s National Parks.

The island, located at 27°09’S and 109°27’W, was discovered on Easter Sunday 1722 by a Dutch fleet led by Jacob Roggeveen, and received its European name because of the very important religious day. Islanders did not seem to have a name for it, but began to call it Rapa Nui in the early 1860’s.


Ahu Akivi, Easter Island (Rapa Nui), Chile © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions


Unlike other protected areas, which are created primarily to protect the endemic flora and fauna, the Rapa Nui National Park was established mainly to protect its archaeological sites.

In order to stop the pilfering of the island by foreign visitors in the early 20th century, a special status of the island was needed. The first step consisted in its declaration as a National Historical Monument and later as a National Park in 1935. At that time the islanders had been confined to the southwestern part of the island in what is now part of its “capital” Hangaroa. Most of the island’s land was used as grazing ground for a foreign sheep-ranch, and scientific expeditions had helped themselves to objects of great archaeological value.


Moai at Ahu Tahai, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions


A first inventory of important sites and artifacts was prepared by Juan Tepano, local informant to many expeditions to Easter Island; this was checked and improved by Father Sebastian Englert (the numbering of the statues can still be seen today), and eventually refined by the University of Chile, which in 1981 published an archaeological atlas containing almost 7,000 archaeological sites, located on approximately 50% of the island’s surface.

When tourism started in 1967, the extension of the park was reduced, and two areas of the island were declared parks: one on Maunga Terevaka and the other on Rano  Kau,  with a combined area of 11,750 acres – just a forth of the island’ s surface. Surprisingly, these parks contained hardly any archaeological features, and were incorporated with other parts of the island into the actual Rapa Nui National Park at a later stage. The park has undergone a number of changes in its size, and is likely to decrease again in the near future based on the need of agricultural, industrial, and habitable land for islanders. While the original idea for a park was to protect the archaeological features a nd the island’s culture, today a number of areas are included or of special interest because of native flora, seabirds, and marine creatures. CONAF (The National Forestry Agency) has run the park since 1972.


Our local leader Ramon Edmunds and our guests admiring the standing moai at ahu Tongariki © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions

In 1995 the Rapa Nui National Park has been declared a “World Cultural Heritage Site”, and today not only Chilean authorities but also the islanders are very committed on the upkeep of the conditions within the park. Beginning in 1955 with legendary Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl, several foreign and local scientists have worked to restore part of the island’s archaeological treasures. As a result some 40 Moai (statues) have been re-erected on their original ahu (platforms), village sites have been restored, and the islanders have revived part of their traditional and ancestral Polynesian life.

Introduction from the book 'Rapa Nui' • Wildlife & Landscapes' by Enrique Couve & Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions • ISBN 978-956-8007-23-2