Aereal view of Rano Kau
The Rano Kau, located on the southwestern part of Easter Island, is the largest volcanic crater and the most amazing natural wonder that can be seen during the tour. Its spectacular eruption, about two and a half million years, was one of three that gave rise to the island.
Its crater is more than a kilometer in diameter and forms a spectacular natural amphitheater that’s about 200 meters deep and frames a large freshwater lake, which was once one of the main sources of fresh water for the Rapa Nui people.
Kari Kari or “crater’s bitten”
The top of the crater overlooking the sea is a fracture or “bite” called Kari Kari, which was produced by the action of the ocean against the base of the cliffs, which eventually destabilize the region. It’s on this side that the birdman participants ran, after climbing down the cliffs, to swim to Motu Nui.
Cattail plants in the lake inside of the crater
The lake’s surface is covered by cattail plants, which are interestingly in the same species as the ones found in the floating islands of Lake Titicaca in Peru. This made Thor Heyerdahl and other researchers insist on their theories about the possible contacts and migrations of South American cultures to Easter Island.
The lake’s more or less stable levels, with a depth of about 10 feet below the reeds, have enabled scholars to conduct sedimentary analysis to determine how the flora that one day covered the island was like and when the deforestation by man started.
View of Rano Kau crater from the lookout
Rano Kau’s perfect shape protects the plants from strong winds in the area (five times stronger than in Hanga Roa) and prevents access to grazing animals. Thanks to this, in 1950, the last Toromiro tree specimen was rescued from here and used to save the species from extinction.
In the narrowest part of the western edge of the volcano, the Rapa Nui built the ceremonial village of Orongo, which was where the tribes and their priests would gather to celebrate one of the most important rituals of their culture, the Birdman Competition.
From Rano Kau’s viewpoint there’s a fantastic view of the coast and the whole crater. If you take the path to the left, you can walk around the volcano approximately 1.5 kilometers, allowing you to see this natural wonder from different angles, as well as the cliffs the Rapa Nui would climb down in the search for the first manutara egg. Through the Kari Kari, you can see the motus at a perfect angle.
View of the motus and the cliff of the crater
A little to the right of the crater’s viewpoint, a fenced in rock contains several petroglyphs with drawings of Birdmen. Following the same path on the right, you will reach the entrance of Orongo.
There are two ways to get to Rano Kau, by car or on foot.
By car, from Hanga Roa, take the road to the airport and turn right. Pass the only gas station on the island and just continue the path up.
Walking, follow the trail from the CONAF gardens passing the Ana Kai Tangata cave. The entire route is more or less marked and you’re unlikely to get lost. When in doubt, always go up. The hike to the crater’s viewpoint takes about an hour, and you’ll have very good views of Hanga Roa and the coast during the journey.
The most suitable time to visit the Rano Kau crater is in the morning until a little after noon, when the sun reflects on the lagoon.