The Moai of Rapa Nui Easter Island

Posted On January 25, 2010 

Known locally as Rapa Nui, the Easter Island is at 3,510 kilometers to the west of Chile in the South Pacific Ocean.

Rapa Nui Easter IslandThis 163.6 kilometer square Island was named Easter Island by the Dutch Admiral Roggeveen who came upon this Island on the Easter Day in 1722.

It is pretty much populated given its isolated location.

When to go

The Rapa Nui Island experiences a subtropical marine climate. The hottest months are January and February with maximum temperature is around 28 degree Celsius on an average. In winters, the temperatures range from 14 degree Celsius to 22 degree Celsius. While most of the rainfall occurs in April-May, be prepared for a downpour at anytime of the year.

The months of July and August, though chilly, are a good hiking season. It’s from January to March that the tourists flock the Rapa Nui Island.

How to go

From Chile, Lan airlines serve Rapa Nui Island four times in a week at its Mataveri airport.  It serves to/from Santiago and to/from Papeete/Tahiti. From Santiago, the journey to the Rapa Nui Easter Island takes about five hours.

If you are travelling from Asia or Australia, you will have to come via New Zealand to Papeete to Easter Island.


Unique to Rapa Nui are stone figures known as Moai. It is a cultural phenomenon of a society of Polynesian origin that settled on this Island in A.D. 300. They built these shrines and stone figures from the 10th to the 16th century along the coastlines.

There are about 100s of them on this Island, either standing on the sites they were erected at, some of them restored, some lying on the ground and some at the quarry where they were created. These figures were supposed to be reflecting the images of the chiefs or the lineage heads, to commemorate them.

One of the archaeological ruins here is Ahu. These large stone platforms were on which the maoi are erected, where also used as burial sites.  The Ahu Te Pito Kura on the southeastern coast of Rapa Nui is the largest moai erected here. This 10 meters long moai is supposed to be the last maoi erected on an Ahu and also the last one to fall.

At Ahu Tongariki, also at the southeastern coast, there are 15 moai that have been re-erceted. This was the largest Ahu though destroyed in 1960 Tsunami. Near by are a number of petroglyphs.

Near the Ahu sites are the ruins of Hare Paenga. These are stones that outline the floor and formed the foundation of boat-shaped houses. The depressions indicate where the walls stood. They were used from the 14th to the 19th century.

Hare Paenga
Another archaeological site that has a number of moai along the Southeastern Coast here is the Rano Raraku. The slope of this volcano is the quarry used for the moai. Among the many standing, fallen and incomplete moai here is the largest one carved, measuring 21 meters. As per certain estimates, about 1000s of moai have been enearthed, nearly half of which are found on the Rano Raraku hillside.

On the west coast of the Rapa Nui Islands is the Ahu Aki, another site dedicated to 7 maoi that was restored in the 1960s. These are particularly interesting to watch at the equinoxes, when the figures are directly facing the sunset.  At Ahu Vinapu too you can see the remains of maoi and those with short legs.

The Ana Te Pahu on the western coast of the Rapa Nui Island is a former cave dwelling with a garden on the front with traditional island fruits and vegetables.

A natural area cum an archaeological site here is the Orito, the slope of which is an obsidian quarry used to create spearheads and other tools.  Above the Rano Kau crater Lake is the Orongo Ceremonial Village. The site was active in the 18th and 19th centuries as a village of the bird cult. There are petroglyohs with bird-like carvings on boulders here. You can trail down to the Lake as well.

You should also visit the village of Hanga Roa, where most of the people of this Island live.  Here, worth a visit is the Iglesia Hanga Roa, a Catholic Church.  Its wood carvings bring the Christian and the Rapa Nui tradition together. Sundays are perfect to see the vibrancy of this church.

Worth a visit is the Museum – Museo Antropologico Sebastian Englert that reflects on the lifestyle of the Polynesian people of the Island and the way it emerged.

There are plenty of natural attractions on the Rapa Nui Island. The Parque Nacional Rapa Nui or the Rapa Nui National Park was established in 1935 to protect the archaeological monuments. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park, in fact, comprises nearly half of the Island with moai, caves, ahu (ceremonial platforms), village structures and petroglyphs.

apa Nui National Park
Among the beaches, there is Ovahe, with its caves and Playa Anakena. On the eastern end of the Island is the Poike Peninsula with the extinct volcano Maunga Pu A Katiki, the highest point here. The small crater of Pana Pau is known for its red scoria, used to make pukao, the topknot on a moai’s head.

There are a couple of good beaches to sit back and relax at. The Island has sites good for water sports. Motu Nui is where you should head to, if you want to enjoy snorkeling and scuba-diving. The Pacific water here is a joy for surfers too.

Motu Nui
Hike or horse ride through the archaeological sites here, if that’s your way of fun.

Of the cultural treat that you get here, one is the Kari Kari, where in the Kari Kari groups perform a musical show of Island legends at the Hotel Hanga Roa.

You will see the best of this Island and the Rapa Nui culture in the period from late January to early February. This is the time to celebrate Tapati, a festival dedicated to the Polynesian cultural heritage of the Island.

The possessiveness of the Rapa Nui for their culture is worth admiring. They love these moai as a symbol of their past, not because of the tourism that they are giving boost to. That’s one reason why they oppose more excavations in addition to the fact that excavating and declaring a site as an archaeological one will in turn leave less for their livelihood.

Apart from beaches, which you will find on any of the Islands in the world, the archaeological sites and the moai gives Rapa Nui a cut above the rest.

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10 Responses to “The Moai of Rapa Nui Easter Island”
  1. Felicia says:

    This is for the 1st time I’ve ever visited a site like this and now I’m in love with it. So many beautiful places which people are unaware and all the articles are explained very well. This place is also awesome! Something different from your boring trips in the big cities and all time shopping!

  2. Paul says:

    UNESCO has got some amazing places listed in their world heritage site and all the places should be visited at least once in life.

  3. Paul says:

    rocks and historical monuments still intact from 300 A.D and 16th century! Truly a classic place to visit. I am wondering at that time rocks must really be solid, not like today that a normal thunder can also bring crack to it.

  4. arizona says:

    This island is full of history! This has to be one of the favorite destination of any archeologist! There are many things to explore.

  5. Bella says:

    History! History and only History! No wonder why there won’t be much population on this island!

  6. Cathy says:

    Moai, Ahu, Hare Paenga. What kind of names are these? What does these names mean. I am sure this will be ancient history but half of things are not easy to understand.

  7. Davis says:

    I am in love with the water if it is exactly the same like the picture. What a shade of blue! Awesome is not the word for it!.

  8. Eragon says:

    I believe now a days people will spend more time on beaches where you can relax and enjoy sun bath rather than visiting historical sites.

  9. Florida says:

    Kari Kari, seems to e some kind of tribes here for your entertainment. Musical show by them will be worth to watch.

  10. Goel says:

    Scuba diving, snorkeling and surfing are the things to do in the deepest ocean! Not that interested in history! Beaches is heaven for me!

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