Easter Island is one of the wonders of the world. Just 14 miles across, it is one of the planet's most isolated fragments of land-the tip of a huge volcano rising from the deep sea bed in the emptiness of the Pacific Ocean.
Properly called Rapa Nui (while its people are Rapanui) it was first settled from Polynesia 2,000 miles away, probably by chance and perhaps only once. There is little agreement as to exactly when.
The pioneers flourished on an island that they found with lush palm forests and the largest bird colony in the Pacific. In their isolation they developed an extraordinary culture which is still surrounded by mystery and conjecture.
Their god, accompanied by birdman deities, gave the leaders the power to safeguard and nurture their people. Some believe that the island's gigantic stone figures were erected to remember the leaders and preserve the power they helped to bring down from on high.
These great moai statues are among the most recognised images in the world-a symbol of all that is remote, exotic and still mysterious. They inspire the world to travel, to explore, and to witness at first hand the things that have made us human in our different ways.
The statues are dotted around the island, many on special platforms within the outlines of ceremonial plazas. They are often in truly stunning locations.
Rapa Nui is shaped in a tilted triangle with a large volcano in the north and two smaller ones at east and west. The whole island is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Polynesian influences are echoed in the island's open and welcoming culture spiced with an independent spirit. About half its 5,000 residents identify as Rapanui, and the Rapanui language is spoken around the island alongside Spanish. 95% of islanders live in or around the little town of Hanga Roa on the west of the island.
Hanga Roa is a very agreeable place that dawdles along a wide rocky bay, with small beaches, a wharf for fishermen and other necessities. It has the only mains electricity and running water on the island, both its banks, the only hospital, and practically all its shops and restaurants. A small airport for flights from the Chilean mainland separates the town from the slopes of Rano Kau volcano.
There is a good choice of accommodation, with some very fine options at the top end of the scale. Getting around the southern part of the island is reasonably easy on its small roads, while much of the north is accessible only on foot or horse.
Rapa Nui's rocky coastline also has some pink-tinged sandy beaches for relaxing and clear waters for snorkelling and scuba diving. The island is especially good for walking. Frequent clear skies give good opportunities for star-gazing.
The Tapati festival, usually in February, coincides with the peak season of visitors to the Island. The festival fortnight crowns a Tapati Queen and there are numerous jolly competitions from dancing to canoeing.