Easter Island: It´s Not Just Giant Heads

I love it when I underestimate a place.

This is what happened to me in Easter Island.  It is expensive to travel here but I decided to pay for part of my ticket with points and just accept that I was heading to an expensive place for a few days to see something I had always wanted to see, with the hope that I wouldn’t be disappointed.

Silly me.  I thought I would see a dozen or so giant head statues and spend the rest of my time relaxing in the sun on this South Pacific Island.  Thankfully, I got some great advice to stay here five days, rather than three. (Thanks Amir!)

Well first of all, it was colder than I expected on Easter Island.  Called Rapa Nui by the local people, it is downright frigid here at night and brisk and windy during the day.  They say you can have all four seasons in one day here.

As for the head statues, called moai, I was delightedly shocked.

15 Restored Moai – all with different facial features

There are almost 1,000 moai scattered around the island and likely more to still be discovered.  They were carved and erected between 1250 and 1500 and are said to mirror chiefs once they died.  Each one has a different facial expressions; some have pouty lips, others elongated ears, each one taller and more grand with the passage of time.

There were about 12 tribes on the island, each with several prominent families who erected their own platform, called an ahu, which doubled as a tomb for those of high ranking.  The moai were then placed on top of these platforms.

These gigantic slabs of stone took about one year to carve and then several months to move downhill.  There are different theories about how the people got them from the quarry to their respective resting place.   One is that they rolled them on logs.  Another is that they tied ropes around the heads and slightly rocked them back and forth in a walking motion (a theory that has been tested successfully in modern times.)

And there are just as many theories on how they got them upright.  One is that they piled stones underneath to slowly prop them up.  Another is that they slid them into holes and then cleared out the dirt around them.

Right before they were erected, the eye sockets were carved out and fitted with coral eyes, set with pupils made from either black obsidian or red volcanic rock.  (Sadly, the island museum has just ONE original eye.  Not a set of eyes.  One eye.  That´s it.  The rest were stolen or sold to museums abroad.)

Many people think the moai face out to sea, but this is wrong.  Almost all of them face inward to offer protection to the people.  Only a few face out, the theory being they represent the original people that came to the island and are now looking back towards home.

By the 1700s, the tribes were at war with each other and made a practice of tipping over moai of rival tribes.  By the mid-1800s, not a single moai was left standing.  Since then, about 50 Moai have been restored to their upright positions and one moai has even been given new eyes.  But most of the moai remain face down in the dirt.

The majority of them can be found at the quarry, still attached to the mountain or buried up to their chins in the earth.  It´s a mind-blowing sight to take in.  They are scattered everywhere in various forms of completion, as if everyone went on a coffee break in the middle of a work day and never returned.  Here is one completed carving still attached to the side of a mountain.  There is another one that was likely headed downhill to it´s platform but fell over in the process.  Over here is one more that was placed in a hole to stand upright and then forgotten until it was covered up to it´s nose with dirt.

Moai Quarry

Moai Quarry

Moai Quarry

A fallen Moai head that broke off the body

Restored Moai gets new eyes. And that is NOT a hat on top of his head, but hair in a top-knot


Watching the sun set on one of the world´s most remote islands

Fallen Moai

And if that isn’t enough, maoi aren’t the only amazing sight on Easter Island.

This volcanic island also contains a maze of lava tubes which twist and turn underground to reveal strange stone formations, windows to the sea, and garden-caves.  One dormant crater is now a colossal lake that will one day join with the ocean once the erosion of the rim is complete.

Exploring caves created by lava tubes

This lava tube opens out to the sea — don´t get too close to the edge!

Volcano crater that is now a lake

My last day here I hiked to the highest point of the island where I could see the entire island AND the curvature of the earth.  It was so windy I almost blew away!

Almost blowing away on top of Easter Island

As one of the most remote islands in the world, you can really feel the nothingness here as you traipse across grassy plains dancing in the wind and side-step free-roaming horses and cows.

Easter Island is a photographic dream

Horses roam freely on the island, including this little guy who was a bit camera shy

Endless clouds

Picture perfect scenery

Such blue water and magnificent waves

Every year the tribes would compete in a series of contests for the new island ruler. One event was swimming to these rocks to find an egg of a certain bird and swimming back with it intact. The event was called Bird Man.

Restored tribal houses

In case you were thinking of swimming…

Easter Island´s only sand beach

Not only did Easter Island NOT disappoint, it amazed, tantalized and thrilled my senses.

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