Thursday, June 4, 2009

Piering into Easter Island

When the first Polynesian immigrants arrived on Rapa Nui (better known as Easter Island), no later than about A.D. 800, they may have pushed their outriggers ashore at the north shore beach of Playa Anakena. Few visitors arrive by sea today - the great majority fly from Santiago or, alternatively, from Tahiti - but the occasional trans-Pacific cruise ship or private yacht still anchors off the village of Hanga Roa. In the absence of a pier, it shuttles its passengers ashore to visit the iconic moai for which the island has become famous. When seas are rough, though, getting them ashore can be difficult or even dangerous - on an island formed by three (dormant) volcanoes, the land plunges steeply into the sea and there are no good natural harbors.

That may change soon, as Chile’s Ministerio de Obras Públicas (MOP) intends to build a pier to accommodate cruise ships at one of three locations: Caleta Hanga Piko (at the south end of town); Papa Haoa (west of Hotel Hanga Roa, which is presently undergoing a major renovation); and Vinapu (on the island’s south shore). The latter is close to a major archaeological site and, thus, the unlikeliest choice, and it’s also the most expensive at US$70 million. The photograph here looks south, and Papa Haoa is the rounded peninsula that juts to the west; Caleta Hanga Piko is immediately south.

Papa Haoa would be the cheapest, at about US$20 million, while Caleta Hanga Piko would cost about US$60 million. Apparently, though, local opinion objects to the Papa Haoa site, which is almost untouched despite its proximity to town. Caleta Hanga Piko, according to the local Consejo de Ancianos (Council of Elders), “has already had human intervention” and even has a small harbor that can accommodate up to four yachts.

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