Biking to the Moai for Sunrise – New Year 2009

Planning this trip in August, I was captured by the idea of seeing my first Easter Island moai at sunrise on January 1st.

On the island on December 31st, I tried to figure out how to make it happen. I had heard that biking around the island was fairly easy – this place, afterall, isn´t that large. However, after renting a bicycle, I discovered the best place for sunrise is Ahu Tongariki, which is on the far east side of the island. The (only) town of Hanga Roa is, of course, on the far west side of the island.

Location of Easter Island

Yep, that´s a 20 km bike ride away.

Now, I had to figure out:

  • How long it would take to bike there, so I knew when to leave.
  • How to see in the pre-sunrise darkness, since the route wasn´t lit.
  • If I actually could ride 24 miles, since I´m not a biker.
  • And in general, if this wasn´t just a stupid idea after all. 🙂

I set my alarm for 4am, packed my bag, toasted the New Year with some (really bad) champagne and went to bed.

I woke up around 5am to the realization that I hadn´t actually turned my alarm on. It was going to be one of those years. 🙂

Anyways, I set out with my dinky REI hiking headlamp and started pedaling.

The pre-dawn bike ride
the pre-dawn bike ride

About 5 minutes into the ride, I realized this was silly:

  • My ass already hurt from the bike seat.
  • The 10 pounds of camera gear and 1.5 L of water strapped to my back was really heavy.
  • I had visibilty of… oh…about 10 feet.
  • The last time I was on a bike was in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. And there, my bike got a flat and I ended up having to walk it.

I also had flashbacks to when I spontaneously decided to do a 17-mile, 6 hour kayak trip in Kauai. And about 10 minutes into that paddling trip I realized, "Oh man, this is going to be waaaay harder than I thought."

Then, about 20 minutes later, I thought I was really screwed.

  • I had to outride some drunken NYE revelers who were packed into a truck and calling out piropos.
  • I had to full out race away from a pack of barking dogs that chased me (and wishing I had actually gone back for my 2nd rabies vaccination.)

But about 7 km in, I hit the coast and was feeling good. The dawn had started rising, and I could see faint outlines of fallen moai against the brightening sky. It was magical.

Around 7am (about 90 minutes later), I arrived at Ahu Tongariki. It literally took my breath away.

Ahu Tongariki, Sunrise of New Year 2009

There were about 40 people there (all Asian – I´m pretty sure Japanese tourists), all of whom had passed me in cars on the way there. (I was the only idiota who biked.)

It was a perfect 7:30am sunrise, with the sun appearing in bright red behind the statues. The large fluffy clouds made it all the more majestic. It made me think of other spectactular sunrises that I´ve seen (Mt. Kinabalu, Angkor Wat) and hadn´t seen (a fogged in Machu Picchu). And I felt pretty damn lucky.

Ahu Tongariki, Sunrise of New Year 2009

Then, around 8:30 am, everyone else left. And it was just me, and the moai. And the beginning of 2009. 🙂

p.s. The bike ride back was, quite literally, a pain in the ass. But the jugo de pina in town tasted that much better for it.

Jumping for Joy
borrowing trevin´s signature shot… the photo was just screaming to be taken. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *