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Moais Petroglyphs and Caves - Other Activity - Chile

Around 95 percent of the Moai statues found on the island are crafted from the volcanic rock around Rano Raraku. In the crater is a beautiful lake which was formed by volcanic activity on the slopes of the Terevaka volcano. Around the area are some four hundred or so Moai, all in different stages of creation.


All but one group of Moai face inland with their backs to the sea. The only Moai facing seaward are at Ahu Akivi, where seven Moai stand in a line gazing out across the Pacific Ocean. Archaeologists have determined that the Moai/Ahu’s were built from 1000-1500AD, though some Ahu (the platform on which the Moai stand) are dated earlier than this.


Most of the Moai inhabit the coastal areas of the island and are easily accessible with a short walk. Among the most famous Moai line-ups are the fifteen strong Ahu Tongariki, the sea-gazing seven of Ahu Akivi and the Ahu Nau Nau who are prepared for the sun at Anakena beach in their red Pukao (hats). In fact every Moai seems to have a photogenic position so take extra film or memory cards and snap away, you won’t be out of place among the many other tourists that visit the island.


Worth devoting a large part of a day to are the Moai manufacturing sites of Rano Raraku on the slopes of Volcano Terevaka, where the Moai sprout from the ground in various stages of their fabrication. Few Moai are still crowned with their cylindrical red volcanic rock topknots or Pukao, which were all quarried from the volcanic cinder cone Puna Pau near Hanga Roa. Most Moai have not only lost their hats, but other finer features as well, including fingers, eyes and other smaller pieces. This occurred during the years of long-ear verses short-ear inter-clan wars of the 1800s. The only existing Moai with carvings down its back is unfortunately in the British Museum in London, England, but you can buy a postcard of it on the island.


At Poukura bay are the remains of Ahu Hanga Poukura. This Ahu was decimated during the wars and the Moai’s red Pukao are scattered among the fallen Moai. Along the coast at Ahu Hanga Tee, eight fallen Moai are a reminder of the clan clashes of the 1800s. The Moai lie strewn like giant chess pieces and have lain there for over 200 years. Remember that although they look neglected, you will receive a large fine and possibly imprisonment if you stand or walk on the Ahu, Moai petroglyphs, or any artifact or piece of heritage on the island.


Of the 313 known Ahu sites (platforms) around the island, it’s said Moai once stood on 125 of them. Many Ahu platforms remain partially overgrown or hidden from sight, so you could be walking on one and not even realize! Some of the Ahu platforms have been used for burials, but this was not there original function, which appears to have been lost in myth and legend. With only theories about the original purpose, we are left to marvel at them and speculate their origin and purpose.


One story is that Ahu Akahanga, on the island’s south east coast, is the burial spot of the first legendary king of Rapa Nui, Hotu Matua. The Ahu originally held thirteen Moai and the fallen Moai here are also a result of the clan conflicts. Said to be Hotu Matua’s biggest rival, Oroi built an Ahu close to Akahanga beach and you can see the scattered red Pukao among the Moai at Ahu Oroi. This is not the most beautiful sight, but you can reach the ocean at Akahanga bay so it's great if you want to cool off.


Although most Ahu are without Moai, some are worth visiting to admire the craftsmanship of the stone masonry. Beautiful basalt blocks lined up and placed with perfection form the base at Ahu Vinapu and at Ahu Huri a Murenga, a way north from Ahu Vinapu.


Atop volcano Rano Kau, many petrogylphs can be found in the enclosed national park area. The entrance fee to the area of CHP$5000 per person may seem expensive, but when you consider that it’s the only time you have to pay to enter a national park area on the island, it becomes a really good value.


The crater of the Rano Kau volcano is spectacular, with its patchwork of reed beds scattered across the lagoon. The crater is near perfectly round apart from a lower lip on the ocean side, where lava once flowed out. Here, on the top of the volcano, you'll find the remains of 56 hare paenga (houses) that comprised the village of Orongo. Hare paenga are boat-shaped, windowless, low stone dwellings, typically up to six meters long, and with very low entrances, which means you'll have to crawl in order to enter. Many are just ruins, but some have been restored and one has part of its roof removed to display its construction and interior.


Some good examples of hare paenga are also found at Ahu Te Peu near the Ahu’s fallen Moai, however in some cases there are only outlines of stone left. Just north of Hanga Roa is Ahu Tahai, which is more of a complex containing three Ahu rather than one. Ahu Kote Riku on the northern side, Ahu Tahai in the center and Ahu Vai Uri to the south. The site also boasts stone dwellings.


Rapa Nui has its own writing system, Rongorongo, that is as unique as the island's culture. Rongorongo is illustrated in the islands petrogylphs, which can be found in several places. Apart from the mass of petroglyphs at the village of Orongo, petroglyphs can be found across the island with many hidden away on the eastern Poike peninsula. You’ll need to walk around to the eastern face of volcano Poike in order to see them in a cave.


Touring the island you will find small round stone towers called Pipi Horeko, which mark the borders of clan territories. It is said that Tu‘u Maheke, the firstborn son of Hotu (the first king of Rapa Nui), received the land between Anakena and Maunga Tea-Tea (maunga meaning hill). Miru, the second child, received the lands between Anakena and Hanga Roa. Marama, the third, received the lands between Anakena and Rano Raraku. Raa, his fourth child, settled to the northwest of Maunga Tea-Tea. Koro Orongo, his fifth, made a settlement between Akahanga and Rano Raraku. Hotu Iti, the sixth, was given the eastern part of the island. Tupahotu and Ngaure, Hotus youngest children were left with the remaining parts of the island, Rano Kau and the Hanga Roa areas.


The famed magnetic rock, the naval of the world, can be found on the northern coast, between Anakena and Poike. It is a large smooth round stone with four smaller stones around it and it is surrounded by a low stone wall obscuring it from view. Placing a compass on the rock causes its needle to spin. The wall around the rock can be a welcome shelter from the relentless Pacific winds, but it does hide the rock, so keep a look out for it.


It’s worth noting that many features of Rapa Nui are hidden from view and so it pays to ask someone when you can’t find what you are looking for, as few signs exist and you can walk right by the things without ever seeing them. The entrance of AnaKaharga, a small cave with two windows, is a good example of this. It is so well hidden that it was used by women to hide from slave raiders. You can walk right by the depression in the ground, which leads to the three foot high and two foot wide entrance to this spectacular lava tube cave. Getting to the two windows, lava outlets in the cliff, involves crouching and waddling for 50 meters or so down a pitch black lava tube. It is difficult to navigate, especially in the dark parts of the cave, without a good light. Once in the windows you’ll get a breathtaking view across the Pacific Ocean that makes the newly acquired bruises on your head and the scuffs on your knees worthwhile.


Several lava tubes and caves exist on the island, some of which extend for several kilometers. These caves, although possible to explore, require extenseive preparation and equipment. One of these, Ana Te Pahu (ana meaning cave), north of Hanga Roa, is a beautiful example of early Rapa Nui life. A part of the cave has been divided into individual living areas with stone walls. A section where the roof has collapsed had been turned into a sunken garden by the cave dwellers, and is now a small but lush banana tree forest.


Ana Kai Tangata has surprisingly well preserved red and white cave paintings of birds that are similar to the symbols in the Rongorongo writing. The birdman cult members of Orongo are responsible for these paintings. To get to the cave, which is located on the coast near the airport, you need to descend a cliff face stairway of abrasive volcanic rock, that can be slippery if wet.

In Ana O Keke, also known as the cave of the virgins, which is on the northern side of the Poike peninsula, you can find some good petroglyphs. Walk further around the peninsula and it will bring you to Ana Hue Neru, a large coastal cave.

Easter Island

Other Activity

Price Description: CHP$5000

Relative price: Budget

Travel Skills: None

You Need to Bring: Mosquito repellent, water, a water proof jacket and good walking shoes

Currencies accepted
Chilean Peso

By Zenan Delaney

Screenwriter, producer, actor, director, radio host, travel journalist and writer, Zen's a permanent tourist with years of social...

07 Jul 2009

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