Friday Photo #35 – Sunset at Ahu Vai Uri, Easter Island (Rapa Nui)


The ‘ahu’ is the pedestal on which the ‘moais,’ or stone carvings stand. This one is closest to Hanga Roa, the only town on Easter Island. Please see 78 other photos in the Easter Island Gallery at

And see all the Friday Photos.

Have a good weekend!


Friday Photo #2

HDR of the Moai at Tongariki, Rapa Nui (Easter Island)


“… Arriving at Tongariki for the first time is hard to describe. It’s an experience you can only have once in this world. The ahu is aligned with the inner part of a natural bay a few hundred meters wide and a field gradually rises inland giving the feel of an amphitheater.

These moai are huge. The biggest on the island is here, 86 tons. You can see why because you are line-of-sight from the main quarry, the cone of the volcano Rano Raraku. They say they built them bigger and bigger toward the end, perhaps growing plaintive in their pleas to the ancestor gods. If that is so these must have been among the last.

Standing at the base of the ahu regarding these guys, isolated in an obscure corner of an obscure island, while you’re alone in the twilight, it’s a feeling not quite like any other. It’s entirely unique.

A man taking pictures, another man and a boy are leaving as we walk through one of the rusty turnstiles they’ve put up here and there around the island. Campers’ lanterns twinkle down along the shore and besides that, no one. Nothing but the sea air, the full moon rising through broken clouds, a crashing surf, the moai and us….”

– from the eventual book, Visiting Easter Island, A Considered Guide.

Click to enlarge the photo. More photos in the Easter Island Gallery at

Finding Rapa Nui

We'll be off at the end of the week on a trip that will take us to Istanbul and Kyiv, so we'll close the book for now on Easter Island. Here's just a portion of an article, more of which will show up later in a much longer form.


Oral tradition has it that Rapa Nui’s first colonizers arrived in two ships, one led by Hotu Matu’a, the other by Ava Reipua, either Hotu Matu’a’s wife or sister, probably in double canoes, although petroglyphs like the one at Orango are the only evidence.

The little museum outside Hanga Roa town points out that navigation solely by the stars has long been supplanted by charts, science and precision, except in Micronesia, where the by-the-stars tradition is still handed down orally.

The stars needn’t have been an ancient Polynesian navigator’s only tools, however. If they’d spent the previous centuries sailing from island chain to island chain, farther and farther out from indonesia to the Solomons, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga, the Societies and Tuamotus and Hawaii, a fair encyclopedia would have accreted to their collected body of their lore. There are many ways the ancient navigator would have been able to see land before he could see it.

Strictly speaking, for discovery, a precise location isn’t required. The curve of the horizon limits islands’ visibility to a distance of about 60 miles at best. At 510 meters, Rapa Nui’s highest peak was spotted from 35 sea miles by a 1882 German expedition.

Continue reading

Voyages of Discovery, Polynesia Edition


Here's a little weekend reading, an excerpt from a coming article on Easter Island:

Conjuring up the downfall of the civilization can drive you mad. Puzzling out the timeline of Rapa Nui’s colonization can cause fits. Then there’s the whole moai thing, the conundrum of their abandonment.

Thankfully, imagining how the settlers got here is a beautiful thing, thanks to the work of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and a canoe called Hōkūle‘a, the inspired project of an artist and historian elected a Living Treasure of Hawaii in 1984, a man named Herb Kawainui Kāne.  

Precious little evidence remains of the physical form of original Polynesian canoes of exploration. Drawings from the same 1773 Cook expedition that called at Rapa Nui show double-hulled canoes at Tonga. Fragments of ancient canoes have been excavated on New Zealand.

A bog on Huahine, near Tahiti, has yielded pieces of a canoe. A petroglyph of a canoe found at Orongo on Easter Island (the center of the birdman cult, about which more later) suggests the possible ancient design. Beyond these tantalizing bits, as Herb Kane tells the story, there is no hard evidence.

So in designing the Hōkūle‘a, Kane made some guesses. He came up with a double-hulled voyaging canoe 62 feet four inches long, 17-1/2 feet abeam with a draft of two and a half feet and a total sail area of 540 square feet. This is the vessel that, since 1975, has traveled the Polynesian Triangle, New Zealand to Hawaii to Rapa Nui.

A member of the crew named Sam Low kept a dairy of the sailing to Rapa Nui, and it’s a gorgeous thing to read. Freedom and expansiveness flow from Low’s pen as he writes of the measure of a sailor’s days – sunrises, stacks of cumulus, “smoke,” a gray haze of salt and seaspray stirred into the atmosphere by strong winds, and sunsets.

Seeking to "discover" Rapa Nui, the Hōkūle‘a sailed from Mangareva, and called for a few hours at Pitcairn Island, Rapa Nui’s nearest inhabited neighbor, where the entire island, 42 inhabitants, put on a potluck dinner. Low writes of “VHF radios squawking in every home — the island’s only reliable telephone service,” of “freezers and shelves crammed with tinned goods to tide people over between supply ships, which arrive once every 4 months,” of how mail is delivered by passing freighters, in watertight containers thrown overboard.

Pitcairn was the refuge of the HMS Bounty mutineers in 1789, and Fletcher Christian’s Bible survives in the 7th Day Adventist church. Brenda Christian lives on Pitcairn still, generations on.

Nainoa Thompson, the Hōkūle‘a lead navigator, devised a scheme for finding Rapa Nui at once ambitious and straightforward. Approaching from the west, the canoe would target a block of ocean starting 300 miles from Rapa Nui and extending two degrees on either side of 27 degrees south latitude, the island’s latitude.

Targeting a box 300 miles by 240 rather than a 64-square-mile speck would compensate for any mistakes the crew may have made in dead reckoning how far east the Hōkūle‘a had sailed from Pitcairn, or in estimating the canoe’s latitude. Beginning at the western edge of the block the Hōkūle‘a would sail up and down to the top and bottom of the box, zigzagging back and forth, and eventually, the crew hoped, pass within sight of Rapa Nui.

Sam Low's diary is written with grace and no affectation, and we’re as thrilled as the crew members when, just before dawn on October 8th, seventeen and one half days out of Mangareva, Max Yarawamai, standing lookout, spots Rapa Nui as a vague black line on the horizon, and the crew celebrates with garlic eggs for breakfast.


See more photos from Easter Island here.

One More Wednesday HDR from Easter Island

Click this photo to make it much bigger. These statues on Easter Island (Rapa Nui) are called moai. They stand on ahus, stone platforms, some of which are ossuaries. The moai on the right in this photo is Ahu Ko Te Riku. Farther out is Ahu Vai Uri and in the distance, that's the island's only town, Hanga Roa.

This photo is an HDR created with Photomatix, Nik filters and Photoshop CS5. It's overlaid with a texture. See more photos from Easter Island here and more HDRs here.

More Moais – Three Last Wednesday HDRs from Easter Island


Three more fancied-up moais from Easter Island:

Top, the quarry at Rano Raraku, where these guys were carved out. It's a long way and a lot of effort to finally stand in this quarry, but if you ever make the trip, it feels like pretty much no other place. Too many mysteries. How did they move these guys all over the island with no modern tools? Why did they stop as if in mid-hammer blow, put down their things and walk away, leaving dozens and dozens of these guys at the quarry? And what happened to cause the downfall of Rapa Nui in the first place?

Middle, This is one lone guy standing by himself near Ahu Tongariki, the biggest single collection of standing moai on the island. It's as if he just didn't get along with the rest of the gang. The long ahu is sort of behind and to the right of this shot, and looking away from them like this makes for a pretty desolate scene, don't you think?

Bottom, Ahu Ko Te Riku, near Hanga Roa town. This fellow's eyes are replicas. He's the only moai with eyes, and it's to demonstrate how much more imposing (creepy?) the moais all must have looked back when they all had eyes. There is one moai fragment with its original eyes in the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum near Hanga Roa.

All are HDRs processed in Photomatix and CS5 using Nik plug-ins. The top two are texturized. The texture in the middle photo was shot on the same trip, in Lima. Click them to make them bigger. There are 50-something photos in the Easter Island Gallery at