South Coastal Road
A short distance east of Hanga Roa, where the paved highway continues northeast toward Anakena, a southern fork follows the coast past a series of ruined coastal ahu en route to the magnificent Rano Raraku quarry, the restored and almost equally impressive Ahu Tongariki, and Península Poike, the island’s most easterly point.
On the bay of Hanga Tee, Ahu Vaihu is the site of eight fallen moai and their pukao, which were recovered from the ocean in 1986.
Sometimes claimed to be Hotu Matua’s burial site, Ahu Akahanga is a large ahu that clearly has royal connections. A dozen moai lie fallen in the vicinity, along with many pukao, though William Mulloy thought the large amount of rubble in the vicinity indicated that stones were used to help raise the moai onto the ahu. Ruins of a village, primarily hare paenga foundations and earth ovens, are also nearby.
Just beyond the shattered Ahu Hanga Tetenga, where a pair of moai lie in ruins, a dirt track forks north to the parking lot for Rano Raraku, the crater where the ancestors of the present-day Rapanui chiseled all the mighty ahu before liberating them from the volcanic bedrock and transporting them to their ahu. About 390 remain in and around the crater, in all stages of completion. Many of them stand erect, buried to their waists or shoulders in alluvium, while others patiently recline, seemingly waiting to be released from their attachment to the crater.
From the parking area on the south slope of the crater, a series of signed footpaths switchback up the slope to figures such as the kneeling Moai Tukuturi, one of few to have visible buttocks, and the reclining 21-meter Goliath, measuring four meters across, still joined to the tuff from which it was carved. Unfortunately, intentional but unattributed fires have denuded some of the slopes around the crater, potentially damaging the sites but also exposing the moai transport routes to view.
To the west, several parallel trails climb the contour into the crater, where totora reeds line the shore of the freshwater lake that fills the lower basin; in late summer, fruit from the feral guava trees still make a tasty snack. One measure of the cataclysmic warfare that hit the island is the fact that more than 300 unfinished moai populate the crater and its outer slopes. The crater’s craggy eastern rim offers some of the island’s best views.
At the parking area ranger station, there are picnic tables, fire pits and toilets.
Its moai toppled in the chaos of intertribal warfare and its base destroyed by a tsunami in 1960, Ahu Tongariki underwent a major restoration when, in 1992, the Japanese Tadano company brought a crane, cash, and personnel to show how to manage it. Under the supervision of Chilean archaeologist Claudio Cristino, an island resident, about 40 Rapanui worked six-day weeks for nearly four years to finish the project. Some 15 moai now stand atop the ahu, which measures 98 meters long, 6 meters wide, and 4 meters high—the largest on the island. There are also numerous nearby petroglyphs, including a turtle, a tuna fish, a birdman, and rongorongo tablets.
Where the south coast road turns north toward Anakena, the eastern end of Rapa Nui’s Península Poike is the site of the 400-meter Maunga Pu A Katiki, a dormant volcano almost entirely surrounded by steep volcanic cliffs except along its western isthmus, the narrowest point on the island, which parallels the north–south road. Directly across the isthmus runs the depression known as Ko te Ava o Iko (Iko’s Ditch), once thought to be a defensive fortification, set afire to prevent an invasion from the west. Recent research has indicated the ditch to be a natural feature; although there is evidence of natural fires, there is no evidence of weapons.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition