The Ara Mahiva Run on Rapa Nui
As promised, this post comes with a full description of the Ara Mahiva route I followed around Rapa Nui on May 31st. Over a week ago already? Wow time flies.
Look at any map of Rapa Nui and it elicits the same response as when one looks at a map of Italy, ‘Really’? The triangular shape looks almost unreal and requires further examination. The landscape of the island is thanks to three volcanoes that sprung from the ocean floor in fairly recently time, geologically speaking. In chronological order starting with oldest first, the three main volcanic areas are: Poike, Rano Kau and Terevaka.
I had roughly calculated that the three sides of Rapa Nui would equate to 3 x 12 miles = 36 miles, backed up by the piece of string distance estimation method! But of course when you are actually on the ground, running the course of an intricate coastline, the extra miles creep in.
With autumn rapidly turning into winter on Rapa Nui the sun isn’t fully up until at least 7:30am. I aimed to start running at 8am knowing that running over the rocky terrain in daylight was preferable. My pre-run breakfast consisted of black coffee and some oatmeal with ‘manjar’ (Chile’s version of Dulce de leche or sweetened condensed milk), and I boiled a piece of chicken on the stove – for my offering of thanks to the island’s spirits. Before too long I was walking along to ‘Tahai’, the archaeological site restored by William Mulloy in the 1980’s. The site features three ceremonial platforms, ahus, and it was in front of Ahu Vai Ure that I placed the chicken, pulled on my running pack, started the Suunto watch with GPS and set off.
The route was simple – stick to the ancient trail of the Ara Mahiva, the coastline. But to outline the run I’ll spilt the description into the three volcanic areas of Rapa Nui.
1. Terevaka: Tahai to Anakena.
The first section took in the seaward slopes of Terevaka and followed the coast in a north/ north-easterly direction out of Hanga Roa. There is a dirt road that leads out of Hanga Roa in the same direction but it eventually winds inland past the ahus of Tepeu and Ahkivi. So I clung to the coast as best I could. This section is a fairly popular hike with locals and visitors, but yet the trail was not easy to identify, and I was constantly navigating over unforgiving basaltic rock formations. There are many different types of lava including pahoehoe and a`a both now interspersed and overgrown with lichens, hardy grasses and shrubs. The topography definitely creates an interesting challenge, especially to a runner – it’s wise to keep your eyes down! There were no major climbs but as I rounded the northern most point of the island there were a few gullies to traverse – areas of heavy erosion. About a mile from there I reached the remotest point of the entire island where at the bottom of steep cliffs, there was a small cow station. The place felt wild and abandoned, apart from a few cows, who looked very surprised to see me! It was a short climb out of the station on a gnarly dirt road. Eventually I left the road and dropped back down to the coast. At the top of the next gentle climb the distinct features of the Poike peninsula appeared on the horizon and I knew that meant Anakena was coming up soon. A moment later I saw my first fellow humans who were hiking in the opposite direction. We waved at each other and continued along our paths.
2. Poike: Anakena to Tongariki.
Reaching Anakena was a serious mental milestone. One third of the run was complete. Any nerves or apprehension about the island, the weather, or how I would feel physically or mentally had long gone. Maybe it was the endorphins. I had been planning to refill my water bottles at the beach but the food and drink stands were firmly closed – it was far too early! Although my supplies were in good shape, I knew conservative measures were needed to ensure my water (2.5 litres in total) lasted the whole day. I ran across the white sandy beach on a high – waving at a girl who was standing the surf. Picking up a footpath that runs through the trees on the opposite side of the beach I then found a dirt road and took the first left back down towards the coast. Sticking to the coastline I made my way over the headland that shelters the only other distinct beach on the island, Ovahe, which looked amazing and very inviting with it’s crystal clear turquoise water. Running over the headland I decided to pick up the surfaced road for the next section of coastline, mainly because I could see a fenced house and hear dogs barking! But I need not have worried – the dogs were friendly and actually joined me on the road, tails a-wagging! Before I reached Poike I took a quick break and rested in the shade of an ahu. One of the dogs was still with me, a little black fella, so we shared some Po`e (island-made banana bread) before starting the climb up Poike.
Poike itself is actually composed of a number of volcanic canoes, maungas in the Rapanui language. Once I reached the first maunga, Tea Tea, I found myself following a cow trail, which led me unwittingly away from the coast, and I started to run inland. At a man-made watering hole for the cattle that graze Poike I ran into a kettle of hawks – a surreal moment. Stopping to stare for a moment I gazed at the scattering birds. It acted as a reality check and I ran off the cow trail back towards the coast – little black dog in tow. As we reached the edge of the peninsula and the ocean appeared in it’s full opaque glory, I stopped to look over the site of Tongariki – the next destination on the route. The Routledges had camped close to the site whilst they were conducting research at Rano Raraku. The scenery is impressive and it must have been a wondrous place to work one hundred years ago.
3. Rano Kau: Tongariki to Tahai.
Finding a route ‘down’ from Poike proved slightly tricky and involved some scrambling through guava trees, but before too long I was trotting over to Tonagriki. There was time for a few quick photos before hitting the road along the southern coast of the island.
With the final section of the run now ahead of me, I suddenly felt tired. The last volcanic peak of Rano Kau looked a long way in the distance. The sun still had some intensity but in due course a light rain cloud passed overhead and I cooled off, thankfully. At one point a small jeep pulled up on the side of the road and a familiar face peered out of the window – it was Francisco from the museum, taking two visiting researchers for a drive around the island! Having not spoken to anyone for a few hours it was great to chat for a couple of minutes. But I had to keep moving.
I eventually reached a turning point, where a dirt road would take me towards Rano Kau. However after a quick water check I knew there was not quite enough for the last major climb, and it wasn’t worth the risk to go without. A tiny white house stood on the side of the main road with three men outside. I walked over, canine friend still at my heels, and after exchanging greetings I asked if they had any water. A thin, older man in work overalls answered saying there was only rainwater to drink, but he also held his hands up in the air at the same time, a disclaimer by gesture, to warn that it could make me ill! At that point I really didn’t have any choice, and willingly accepted, also holding my hands up. It transpired that the men were mechanics in the middle of fixing a truck. They tried to convince me that horseback was a preferable way to see the island but I explained that actually, I’m better on my own two feet. We chatted about Rapa Nui, travelling and languages but a short, intense rainstorm cut short our conversation. No matter, I felt seriously refreshed after two glasses of delicious rainwater and ready for the final section of the run.
The climb up to the peak of Rano Kau started at the archaeological site of Vinapu – a place I knew very well from 2005 (see Terevaka.net for details). But the first stage required some serious hiking through a dense patch of lupine vegetation. Once back into the open, the craggy slope showed it’s true colours, it was steep and rough underfoot, but I found a final reserve of energy to speed hike up the seaward edge of the crater.
The views were breathtaking, and when I reached the highest point – I was literally lost for words! The land fell away for hundreds of feet and looking down to the sea I scanned across to the small off-shore islands, Motus – the islands that feature heavily in the Tangata Manu or Bird Man competition that Katherine described in her book. Looking back up the cliffs I spotted the Kari Kari – the most precipitous section of the crater where Hotu Matua (first founding chief of Rapa Nui) is said to have spoken his last wishes. I sat down for a moment to soak up the dramatic scenery – my little black partner still right there.
Eventually I stood up, somewhat reluctantly (I could have stayed there all afternoon) to resume running, the route now following the rim of the crater inland. Gusts of wind occasionally rushed around me, but the path rolled along. Soon enough I found the trail that leads to Hanga Roa and steadily began the final descent towards Tahai. I have to add here that it is not possible to complete the circle of the crater due to National Park boundaries and serious erosion issues on the seaward edge of Rano Kau. I chose to follow the designated trail in returning to Tahai and therefore did not follow the coast as closely as the Ara Mahiva.
When I reached Tahai the sky was grey, and only a handful of people were walking around the site. I smiled and exchanged a few ‘Holas’ before finally stopping in front of Ahu Vai Ure. With mixed emotions I looked at the Moai then promptly lay down in the grass. I could hardly believe I’d finished – I had run, and survived, the Ara Mahiva around Rapa Nui.
A few more specifics…
Total time: 9:05 hrs
Total elevation gain: 1541m
Total mileage: 40 miles/ 65 kms.
For people interested in running this route in the future more data from the GPS and a detailed map are available on the ‘Moves Count’ website: HERE.
Shoes: 1st edition Adidas boosts. These super comfortable ‘road’ shoes were not ideal for an all-volcanic-terrain run, but they were all I had. The upper had been coming away from the sole for a while, so I stitched up and super-glued the holes before this run. They did a great job on the day but are now trashed.
Nutrition: 2 PowerBars. 2 Quaker oat granola bars. 1 Rapa Nui banana. 1 mini loaf of Po`e (home-made banana bread).
Hydration: 1 litre of nuun electrolyte – tropical flavour.
1.5 litres of ‘agua con gas’… Yes – big mistake! I’d needed another bottle of some sort and so had grabbed the first bottle of water I saw in a mini-market, which was carbonated and promptly exploded at my first water stop. I hadn’t packed a hydration reservoir/ bladder on this trip so drinking involved stopping to grab a bottle from my pack. This didn’t really matter since I prefer to run hands-free, and I drank to thirst rather than according to time.
2 tall glasses of catchment rain water (about 0.75 litre?) from the house of a mechanic who I ran into on the side of the road – the only support I had during the run… Apart from the company of the little black dog!
Recovery from the run took a few days – and as expected two days later serious DOMs set in! I practiced gentle yoga as a form of active recovery but still could not face sitting on the mountain bike come Monday morning (and so hired a quad bike to visit the final sites still on my Routledge/ Mana Expedition list)!
The Ara Mahiva route around Rapa Nui was beautiful, surprisingly and tough! The day is firmly imprinted on my memory and will remain with me for a long time. Without the support from friends on Rapa Nui – the Atan family, Francisca, the students at the Aldea and staff at the museum it would not have been possible – and to them I need to say a huge Maururu!! Additionally I need to thank Rapa Nui for being so welcoming and friendly.
Posts to expect over the next few weeks include Part 2 of the bike leg summary, and a full Retracing Routledge round-up.
Ciao from the road!