Aloha! And welcome to Easter Island, one of the most remote and mysterious islands in the world.
When I arrived on the island, I stared at the huge waves crashing ashore and tried to wrap my head around the fact that the first inhabitants, survived a tricky 2.000 mile voyage across the Pacific Ocean to start a new society on this very island. How did they ever make it here? And why did they choose to live so isolated from the rest of the world?
But even more intriguing are the stone figures called Moai which were carved by this society whenever an important tribe member died. The stone figures weigh over 70 tonnes and measure up to 10 meters. How did they transport them? And why were they all thrown over at some point?
There are many legends and theories about these Moai. And the best way to unravel their secrets, is to meet them.
One of the first things you’ll need to do is buy tickets for the National Park at the airport. Don’t forget about this because the only other place on the island where you can buy them is at Orongo. If the booth is closed because of ‘political disagreements’, don’t worry. We had the same problem and were still able to see the sites.
Ok now that you’ve got your tickets you’ll have to make a choice between the following options:
– Taking a full day bus tour with a guide.
– Seeing the Moai by yourself.
If you choose the second option you’ll be cruising the island on a scooter, going for a swim on a paradise beach and seeing the Moai without another tourist in sight.
You’ll need two things to do this:
– Rent a scooter in Hanga Roa’s main street
– Buy the book ‘A Companion to Easter Island‘
Now let’s meet these Moai!
Take the coastline route and stop at the first big platform called Vaihu or Hanga Te’e. All the Moai have been toppled over and their red topknots are scattered across the field. It’s a bit of a sad sight to see but it’s a good representation of the state in which most of the ceremonial platforms (also named Ahu) were found. Try to spot the circle just in front of the Ahu. This is a ceremonial circle, called a Paina which was used by sons to honor their mother or father.
Keep driving along the coastal route and enjoy the view. Your next stop is Rano Raraku, the stone quarry where nearly all of the Moai were carved. It’s one of the most important sites on the island with over 400 Moai in different states of carving. Some of the Moai are still in early proces as only the faces, torsos and arms have been chipped away from the stone. Others are already standing upright. Some of them show detailed back work but most of it has been damaged by the harsh weather conditions.
You can already see your next location from Rano Raraku. With it’s 15 restored Moai, Tongariki is the biggest platform on the island and even bigger than any ceremonial platform in Polynesia. Its waterfront setting makes it an impressive site to see. Pay special attention to the Moai lying int the middle of the plaza. It probably broke during transport to the platform. The Rapanui people left it behind once broken, believing the Moai’s spirit or mana had left the statue.
Te Pitu Kura
Keep on following the road until you arrive at Te Pitu Kura, the biggest Moai that ever stood on a platform, measuring 10 meters and weighing 70 ton. But what makes it even more special is that it’s one of the few Moai whose original name has been recorded. Unfortunately, Paro – which was his name – now lies topped over. Tip: Take a walk to the left side of the platform. You’ll find a stone which according to a legend was brought here by the islands’ first king, Hotu Matu’a. Many people believe(d) that it’s the navel of the world and lay their hands upon the stone to feel it’s power. Truth is that it simply heats more than the surrounding rocks because it’s a volcanic rock. Still kinda cool right?
Now drive along a little bit of dirt road until you see the postcard perfect Anakena Beach. The platform – Nau Nau – here is surrounded by palm trees, a sandy beach and vivid blue water. The water is 18 to 24 degrees year round and the perfect place for a swim.
Return to Hanga Roa from Anakena by taking the central island road and drive to Tahai for sunset. This site has 3 platforms: Ahu Vai Vri (the biggest platform with 5 Moai), Ahu Tahai and Ahu Ko Te Riku. The last one is the only Moai on the island with an imitation pair of eyes.
As you can see on the map below, there are plenty more Moai sites to see on the island. But don’t forget that Easter Island has a lot more to offer than Moai.