With Craig behind the steering wheel of our jeep (that had seen much better days), we set off for our day to take in some of the most famous sights on Rapa Nui. Our first stop was to see the sunrise at Ahu Tongariki. We arrived early to starry skies and just a glimpse of the giant shadows in the darkness.
As the dark skies lifted and the sun started to rise, we sat quietly in front of the 15 Moai statues that were standing in silence. This is the largest ahi (Moai platform) ever built, and there is certainly a magical feeling in the air as the daylight breaks and the 15 Moai appear. Majestic in stature and huge in size, the feeling you get from the Moai is not aggressive or oppressive, but a comforting feeling of strength, like they are looking over you and will keep you safe.
Sadly we didn’t get an impressive sunrise, but we came back here later in the day when the sun was high in the sky, and the green and blues from the clear day were just as impressive. As is the individuality of each of the Moai. Supposedly a new Moai is erected for each chief of the village, and this village had some variety in their chiefs. Check out the giant Moai 5th from the right below, who is at least a head taller than all the others.
The next stop for the day was the volcano site of Rano Raraku, also known as The Nursery – the birthplace of the Moai. Or rather the quarry from which the Moai were cut. We arrived just after the opening time of 9:00am to find the sight still closed. About 15 minutes later the park officials finally arrived – you have to love island time. At least we had a great view back across to Ahu Tongariki to admire while we waited.
As we were early, we had the place to ourselves for the entire visit, which was great and added to the atmosphere. Walking around the site, it was amazing to see the Moai in varying states of progress.
When the Moai religion lost popularity in the 18th century due to a number of factors (more on this in a later post, but let’s just say they had their fair share of troubles – slavery, disease and famine just some of their worries), the Moai in the quarry and around the island were left abandoned, where most remain to this day. Some just being born, half carved out of the rock, some still in the quarry, and others abandoned along the road, never to reach their final destination.
After an early start, what better way to relax than a trip to one of only two sandy beaches on the island, Anakena. It was amazing to be surrounded by palm trees, enjoying the sun, golden sands and blue waters with more Moai as a backdrop. The water was amazingly clear and it felt great to be back in the ocean again.
After a nice swim and some lunch, we drove to the other sandy beach of the island – O Vahe – which we found was closed due to falling rocks. We did spot a couple that had ignored the warning signs and were enjoying the beach. Although slightly jealous, we decided not to take the risk ourselves.
The rest of the afternoon was taken up with some of the smaller sights – we saw petroglyphs in the rocks, a toppled Moai or two, and we also stopped at a rock called the‘navel of the island’. To be honest, without a guide it’s meaning was lost on us, but we understood it was important to the local people who come here to feel connected to the island, so of course we had a turn.
Last stop of the day was Puna Pau, the quarry of red rocks where the red topknots, which sit on some of the Moai, were made. The topknots are thought to represent the men’s hairstyles at the time. The sight was fairly uninteresting, with just a few topknots that had been carved (but had not made it to the actual Moai) laying around.
After a long day out, we headed home in high spirits after what had been a brilliant day. And hats (or topknots) off to our driver Craig, who did a great job driving us around in a car that was a bit special – but we made it home safe and sound.