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The moai origins
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rano Raraku is a volcanic quarry where most of the island’s iconic moai were created. Marvel at these huge basalt monoliths as you walk amongst hundreds of specimens in various stages of completion. Some stand proud at four metres tall, others are unfinished and abandoned, while the 21-metre El Gigante lies where it was carved, most likely too heavy to lift. See where archaeologists have transformed protruding heads by uncovering their buried bodies, then admire Tukuturi, the island’s only kneeling statue.
By some extraordinary feat, the Rapa Nui people transported moai all over the island. Many still stand where they were placed, facing inward atop Ahu plinths, to watch over their townspeople and descendants. Some of the earliest carvings can be found just north of the island’s capital of Hanga Roa. At Ahu Tahai, a line of five unique figures stand on stone platforms with their backs to the sea while, across a gap in the cliffside, is Ahu Ko Te Riku, a distinctive statue with a pukao topknot and restored coral and obsidian eyes. Nine miles inland, at Ahu Akivi, are the only ocean-facing statues, while a row of torsos at Ahu Nau Nau are visible as you laze on Anakena beach. For phenomenally picturesque memories of fifteen silhouetted moai, catch a sunrise at Ahu Tongariki.
Volcanoes and birdmen
On the southwest tip of the island is Rano Kau, an extinct volcano filled with a freshwater lake. Walk around much of the mile-wide crater for outstanding views, both out to sea and into its dramatic flora-lined caldera. At the point where its slopes meet the cliff edge, explore the archaeological ruins of the Orongo ceremonial village. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the 53 windowless stone houses were home to the Tangata Manu (birdmen) who competed annually to retrieve a tern egg from nearby Motu Nui islet. Numerous petroglyphs carved into the rocks are thought to celebrate its winners. An impressive moai known as Hoa Hakananai'a was taken from this site in 1868 and is now housed in the British Museum.