South of Hanga Roa, a dirt road climbs steeply past a mirador offering an excellent view of Hanga Roa up to one of the most awe-inspiring spots on the island – the giant crater of the extinct RANO KAU volcano, and the ceremonial village of ORONGO, perched high on its rim. The dull waters of the volcano’s reed-choked lake contrast sharply with the brilliant blue of the Pacific, stretching as far as the eye can see, visible where a great chunk of the crater wall is missing. Just before you reach Orongo, a path disappears into the lush vegetation around the crater’s edge; it is possible to follow this around the crater as a leisurely day’s walk, but bring plenty of water.
Orongo, just beyond the Conaf visitors’ centre (where national park entry permits are available), consists of the partially restored remains of some 48 low-lying, oval-shaped huts made of thin stone slabs, each with a tiny entrance just large enough to crawl through (don’t try). A few steps from the houses, on the face of some basalt outcrops looking out to sea, you’ll find a dense group of exquisitely carved petroglyphs depicting curled-up human figures with birds’ heads and long curved beaks. These images honour an important annual ceremony dedicated to the cult of the birdman. A great deal is known about this ceremony, as it was practised right up to 1878.