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6 of the Pacific’s Most Mysterious Wonders

Easter Island 2
Easter Island
Nan Model Micronesia 2
Nan Model Micronesia
Norfolk Island Gaol
Rai Stones, Micronesia
Rai Stones, Micronesia 2
Ha'amonga'a Maui Tonga

6 of the Pacific’s Most Mysterious Wonders

story by: Tom Ricketts

Far from influence of Europe and Asia, the Pacific Islands developed their own unique cultures and customs. While they’re not as famous as the castles and cathedrals of Europe, the pyramids of Africa, or the temples of Asia, the Pacific Islands do have some architectural wonders of their own.

1. THE MOAI OF EASTER ISLAND
Probably the most famous of the South Pacific wonders are the giant moai (monolithic human figures) of Easter Island. It’s still speculated what exactly they were built for, and how, but thanks to carbon dating, what we do know is that they were built (or carved from the hillside) around 1250-1500CE. All of the 887 moai were toppled from their positions over time, but today about 50 have been re-erected.
HOT Tip: Easter Island is part of Chile today, however you can avoid the long TransPacific flight via Santiago by getting a flight from Papeete instead.


2. VENICE OF THE PACIFIC
Mystery shrouds much of Nan Madol, the most impressive of the dozens of archaeological sites spread across Micronesia. The ancient city is built on a lagoon, and the name Nan Madol translates to ‘spaces between’, a reference to the many canals and islands that define the city. Some of the buildings reach up to 16 metres in height, and at its peak it’s thought up to 25,000 people lived here!


3. NORFOLK’S CONVICT SITES
Norfolk Island was selected as an ideal penal colony thanks to its remoteness and economic potential. The first settlers arrived in 1788 and set about building a gaol and other town facilities. The gaol and several other buildings remain today and are often said to be the best examples of all Australia’s convict sites, so much so that it has won UNESCO World Heritage status.


4. MONEY YOU COULD DO WITHOUT
If you think our two dollar coins, or the old fifty cent coins were bad, spare a thought for the poor Yapese. The Yapese (from the island of Yap, Micronesia) discovered limestone on neighbouring Palau around 1000-1400AD and the easily minable stone quickly became very valuable to them. So valuable in fact, that quarried discs of limestone called ‘rai stones’ became their currency. However the rai stones weren’t fashioned into easily manageable coins like ours; on Yap, bigger was better. Eventually they became so large, holes had to be made in the middle so a palm trunk could be inserted and lucky workers could then transport them around. However many were simply too heavy to continuously transport, so were left in place, and a strict knowledge of ownership replaced the actual trading of the stones. Today rai stones as large as four metres and weighing four metric tons can be found across the island.


5. STONEHENGE OF THE PACIFIC?
Calling it Stonehenge might be exaggerating things, but you inevitably make the comparison when you see Tonga’s 13th century Ha'amonga 'a Maui. The stone arch is thought to have been an entranceway to a royal palace. The remains of a royal throne also built of stone are just few metres away, and the story goes that the king sat on the stone throne so nobody could stab him in the back, and had the stone arch built in front of him so he could easily attack anyone that came through it.
HOT Tip: A lot of the Tonga’s historic royal sites are off limits to tourists and have little information, so hands it’s down best to visit on a guided tour.


6. DISCOVER THE MYSTERIOUS TIA SEU ANCIENT MOUND
Plonked in the middle of dense bush on the Samoan island of Savai'i is the mysterious Tia Seu Ancient Mound, also known as the Pulemelei Mound. The mound is actually a manmade pyramid, with the base measuring 65x60 metres and a height of 12 metres. That’s pretty much all that’s known about it, but archaeological work continues to try and solve the mystery.
HOT Tip: You’ll need a guide to find and explain this spot, most of track is overgrown and there are no information boards etc.

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