Some may ask why Polynesia would make a good mountain climbing destination. There are higher mountains elsewhere, and Polynesia is much better known for its beaches and diving than it is for mountains. One reason why we chose Polynesia is because my wife and I haven’t been there. If you could fill in all the places we have been on a globe or world map, the largest blank spots on the maps would be Antarctica, the Arctic, and the South Pacific. The only places we have gone in the South Pacific were Australia and New Zealand. Polynesia seemed like a good place to take the children as well. The Arctic and Antarctic would be too harsh for our children at their ages. So Polynesia it was!
Polynesia actually has some of the most rugged mountains in the world, but all are very seldom climbed, because everyone hangs out on the beaches and coastline. Some of the most fascinating archeological ruins in the world are found in Polynesia as well.
Our three year old son, Kessler; and out 18 month daughter, Shaylee came along as well too. Kessler likes to hike and climb peaks, and Shaylee tries and likes to be carried, but some of the mountains would be too rugged for the children to climb, so we had to plan beach activities as well, when I was to climb the more rugged peaks.
November 4, 2005
Today we took a tour around Easter Island, and climbed Rano Raraku. I must mention that even before we started, the all of us were exhausted. The day before, our flight left Tahiti at 12:30 am. This was only a day after arriving in Tahiti at 2 am after flying across the Pacific! We crossed four times zones going to Tahiti then five in the opposite direction when flying to Easter Island. Needless to say, everyone was tired! (I had also climbed Maunga Pukatikea the day we arrived).
After visiting all the ruins along the coastline, we were glad to stop for a climb of the volcano of Rano Raraku
. Rano Raraku is only 260 meters/853 feet high, but is one of the more interesting summits I have visited, and the peak is one of the most fascinating areas in the world, archeologically. Rano Raraku is where all the Moai statues that are present around the entire island were carved. All were carved between 690 and 1460 AD. How the people managed to transport and erect the huge statues from the peak and to all around the island remains a mystery, though there are several theories that are often mentioned on tours and in books. There are almost 400 statues on this volcano, and it’s a fascinating place to visit. These statues were portraits of known ancestors, were considered "living", and they looked towards a village to protect them. Some were moved up to 18 kms/11 miles away. How the natives did this is still a mystery, but some theories range from rolling them on logs, walking them with huge ropes, and extra-terrestrial/alien help. Since none of these has been proven conclusively, choose a theory to believe after doing your research.
A total of 397 statues are still at Rano Raraku, and there may still be more that are buried. The statues are at various stages of completion; many are complete, but some are still embedded in the cliffs of the peak and were never finished. Along the main trail we hiked, we passed 70 standing statues, and 30 lying face down on the ground. The largest of the statues was never finished and remains buried in the cliff. It is 20.6 meters/68 feet long.
The hike is just steep enough to make it challenging for the children. Shaylee, at 18 months old, didn’t understand the history of all the statues, but she enjoyed finding them and pointing them out. “Statue” she would say while pointing. Kessler like to try to get ahead of everyone and be first to climb to the summit, but we had to hold him back.
It was a great hike for everyone. The crater lake was really nice as well. It was probably only a 2-3 mile hike, but since there was so much to see, it took us quite a while and it was way past lunch time when we got back to the vehicles.
After this we headed to the north coast to visit the beach and more ruins up there.
November 5, 2005
Today, we all climbed Rano Kau
. Like Rano Raraku, Rano Kau also has ruins, but they are from a different time period. Rano Kau has a very interesting history. The site known as Orongo is on the summit of Rano Kau. Orongo was the main ceremonial site on the island and many petroglyphs of the "birdman" or on the stones surrounding the rim of the volcano. There are ruins of 47 stone dwellings on the summit of Rano Kau. For every September between 1460 AD and 1866 AD (406 years!), there were birdman festivals on the peak. A race was staged where the participants would make the dangerous swim to the off-shore island of Motu Nui to find the first egg of the sooty tern bird. The winning participant would then carry the egg to the top of the peak Rano Kau and would be proclaimed as "birdman". The winner was thought to posses supernatural powers.
We cheated and got a ride part way up the mountain from Hanga Roa, but there was still plenty of hiking to be had that day. Shaylee was carried by her mother, and Kessler walked the entire way. We all enjoyed the nice views when climbing to the summit. There was an interesting forest of eucalyptus and ferns to pass through en-route to the summit. There were lots of lizards that the children like to watch. Once on the crater rime, the views of the crater are spectacular. There was also a great view of the ocean below. We all enjoyed visiting the summit and ruins before heading back down the peak. We ate lunch at a perfect spot in the eucalyptus forest.
On the way back, we visited several big sea caves and the crashing ocean. We visited the inside of the largest sea cave, but neglected to look at the ceiling. After we got back, we learned that many ancient paintings were all over the ceiling of the cave!!
November 6, 2005
Today, I climbed Maunga Terevaka
, the highest peak on Easter Island. The trip looked too long for the children, so they went with mommy and hiked along the coast and visited the beach. I took a taxi to Ahu Akiva where there are seven huge moai statues at the trailhead. You can’t miss this trailhead! Unfortunately, I found out that the digital camera I had brought had a dead battery, and I had not brought a spare.
Maunga Terevaka was a nice walk across the grasslands with fine views across the island. It is the longest hike, but actually the most gentle of all summits that were visited on this trip to Polynesia. Other than the statues at the trailhead, I didn’t see any ruins on the peak. After summiting, I visited the interesting forest and crater lake south of the peak, and then I returned to the trailhead. I decide to take a more direct route to Hanga Roa instead of following the roads all the way back. This turned out to be a good move, but I’m still kicking myself for not having a spare battery for the camera. I headed directly west and passed north of Maunga Roiho. There were some old 4wd tracks and horse trails at first, but the route become more rugged closer to the coast and crosses some rough lava fields. Along the way, I found two huge lava tube caves and a large carving of a sword fish(?). No tour groups make it out here, nor are these places ever mentioned in the books, so it was really thrilling to just stumble on them. Finding them unexpectedly was such a neat experience. After reaching the coast, I waked along the 4wd track to the south and reached Hanga Roa, passing many statues near the town along the way. It was a long day, but a great hike.
November 11, 2005
Now, five days after my climb of Maunga Terevaka, and after doing much “touristy stuff”, it was time for some more serious mountaineering on the Island of Moorea (reached by a flight back to Tahiti and then by ferry). The wife and kids went on a whale and dolphin watching cruise, so I could attempt to climb Rotui
, the second highest peak on the island of Moorea. Despite the low altitude of the peak, the mountains of Moorea are among the most rugged in the world and every bit as rugged as the Himalayas. Unlike the Himalayas however, most peaks on this and the surrounding islands are considered impossible to climb and many still await first ascents.
The Lonely Planet book had made Rotui out as a serious climb, so I prepared for that. I started out at sunrise. After dodging the local dogs and finding the correct trail, I started up the mountain. Since all the reports I read indicated that the climb should be done in long pants, because of the brush, this is what I wore. I quickly decided that they were way to hot, so I ditched them for my swim trunks. Even in swim trunks, the brush wasn’t bad enough to suffer more through the heat. It was a very hot and exhausting climb up to the flame trees. The fixed ropes that were supposed to be here were missing, but it didn’t matter as there were many vines, roots and branched to aid in climbing the steep part. Piece of cake.
I now followed the ridge towards the summit. The weather was clear at first, but more clouds gathered the higher I went. It was very hot so I began thinking that a nice rain shower might feel kind of good. This was naïve thinking. The clouds completely enclosed the mountain not far below the summit, and it began to rain. I didn’t get any summit views because of this.
While getting up the mountain wasn’t too bad, getting down in the rain was. It was really difficult and slippery. The mountains on Tahiti and Moorea are about the most slick that I have ever visited. I had to make sure I was holding on to branches or roots the entire way down, but this didn’t always stop me from falling. I fell several times, but only two falls were enough to cause blood loss. It was quite the trip going down!
November 13, 2005
It was time to climb Mouaputa
, and after Rotui, I was ready, or so I thought. I have to admit that some mountains have made me nervous, some had me worried, some caused a little fear, but Mouaputa was the mountain that terrified
me. This is one scary climb, at least in the rain!
After visiting the morning session of church, I hitch-hiked to the trailhead at Afareaitu. After fumbling around a bit, I located the correct road up to the Afareaitu Waterfall and began to follow it. As I went along, I was followed by more and more children who wanted to follow the American to the falls. Soon the road turned into a trail and became steeper, passing several pools and cascades. At the waterfall, there were several locals enjoying the falls. This was a good thing, because I couldn’t find the route towards Mouaputa. Once of the locals pointed it out, but said it was too dangerous. I climbed the steep slopes through the dark rainforest and through a little valley and along a small creek. Before eventually reaching the ridge. Here is where things get really serious. The ridge is very exposed, and you must climb eight fixed rope sections to gain the summit. Unfortunately, it began to rain, making things extremely dangerous. Maybe I’m a pansy, but climbing Mouaputa scared the piss (I don’t swear) out of me. It is more a mountain that some summits I have climbed that were five or more times higher. Holding on to a rope while descending wet rock covered with slick mud with the consistency of glazed snot, while dangling over a 370 meter/1200 foot void in the rain does not inspire confidence. I feel lucky to still be alive!!! I wisely decided not to make the final few pitches in the rain, but it was still very dangerous getting down. I really sweated and worried on this one, but luckily, luck was with me, and I got away with nothing worse that a cut ankle. At the time, I wasn’t bothered by the blood and just wanted to get down the mountain.
After reaching Afareaitu, I decided to walk back to Cooks Bay. Though tired, I was covered with mud and blood, and didn’t think anyone would want to give me a ride, neither did I want to ride the bus in this condition. I walked the road to Vaiare and decide to take the overland route
across the island. This was a scenic and spectacular route, and I had some really good views of Mouaputa as well as some of the other spectacular peaks. The climb up to the pass was steep, but scenic. The trail splits at the pass, and I went right. I then walked the knife edge ridge north before dropping very steeply to the Paopao Valley. It is steep and slippery, so I had to cling to roots, branches, and vines to make the descent, but this was still a piece of cake in comparison to Mouaputa! I returned to Cooks Bay looking like the swamp monster and quickly jumped into the shower. It was a very long and tiring day!
November 15, 2005
Very early in the morning, I set off for Tahiti and Mount Aorai
. The wife and kids had plans for a boat excursion on this day, and I left while everyone was sleeping. This would be the final climb of the trip.
I took the early ferry to Tahiti and then took the early morning bus to the suburb of Pirae, where I started walking towards the mountain. Luckily, I caught a ride to Le Belvedere, where the route began. I had forgotten my food bag in Moorea, so I bought a pizza in the restaurant, and had them box it up for my planned two-day climb. At first it was just cloudy, but after the first two hours or so, it began to rain. What a surprise. I knew that November is the beginning of the rainy season, but this was getting ridiculous. I was completely soaked, but continued up the mountain. At the first hut, I dropped everything, and continued towards the summit hoping for better weather. It never came, and it was a downpour the whole time. Because of all the wet climbs I had done in the past few days, my feet were sore. I continued in the afternoon towards the summit, until at the higher elevations it actually began to become cold. The fixed rope sections were a pain in the rain, but not as bad as they were on Mouaputa. Although I was high on the mountain, I lost all hope of better weather, and also lost my desire to climb the rest of the mountain. I headed back to the first hut in the rain to get my stuff. I fell several times in the super-slick mud, which made for a sore butt. I was soaked and decided it would be a good idea to walk back to Le Belvedere and catch a ride back to Papeete. The heck with all this rain. I walked back to Belvedere, but never got a ride. I actually walked all the way back to Papeete, and there were no busses this late. I arrived after mid-night after completing one of my longest days ever. I checked into the nearest hotel (Prince Hanoi), and fell asleep without eating anything. It was a long and hard climb.
After the climb, we all did the tourist thing for a few days before heading back home.