Ahu Ko Te Riku, the only complete moai on Easter Island

The only complete moai of Easter Island is the Ahu Ko Te Riku in Tahai

The Ahu Ko Te Riku is the only ceremonial platform on Easter Island where you can see a complete moai. This unique fact and its spectacular location in the Tahai area have made it one of the most admired and photographed images of Rapa Nui.


Ahu Ko Te Riku, the best preserved ahu in Tahai

Location of Ahu Ko Te Riku on the waterfront in Tahai
Location of Ahu Ko Te Riku on the waterfront in Tahai

Tahai is the largest archaeological center and the best restored of those located near Hanga Roa. In Tahai there are three ahu or ceremonial platforms located on the small rocky cliff that rises above the sea. If you look straight at the statues, the first one on the left with five moai is the Ahu Vai Uri, the next one is the Ahu Tahai and the last one is the Ahu Ko Te Riku.

Read more about the archaeological complex of Tahai

The research tasks and the subsequent restoration of the Tahai archaeological complex were carried out in 1968 by a work team led by Chilean archaeologist Gonzalo Figueroa and the Americans William Ayre and William Mulloy. The remains of the latter rest, along with those of his wife, in a grave located in this place.

The platform of the Ahu Ko Te Riku is located to the north of the complex, next to the stone wall that delimits the archaeological area. Above it stands a single 5.1 meter high moai that has all the elements that adorned the ancient finished statues: the pukao and the coral eyes.


The curious and sad story of the pukao of the Ahu Ko Te Riku

The moai of the Ahu Ko te Riku with the replica of the pukao installed in 1968
The moai of the Ahu Ko te Riku with the replica of the pukao installed in 1968

The moai head of the Ahu Ko Te Riki carries a pukao, cylindrical piece carved in red slag from the Puna Pau volcano. This form, which according to different opinions, represents a hat or a hair-shaped bun, was placed in the last phase of construction of the ahu.

Read more about the pukao, the moai headdresses

It is believed that the original pukao of this moai was used to carve the Christian cross that is in the nearby Tahai cemetery, but there is not even the certainty that it weared one.

However, we know the history of the current pukao, dating back to 1968. That year, when the restoration of Tahai began, the famous French magazine “Paris Match” was documenting the lifting of the moai of the Aku Ko te Riku.


In order to obtain more striking images, photographer Tony Saulnier and reporter Hubert Herzog requested to place a replica of a pukao, made by Juan Haoa, on the head of the moai, with the condition of removing it at the end of the photo session. But at the end of the report, the islanders refused to withdraw it and there it continues since then.

The story ends sadly, since the two French reporters died on March 6, 1968 during their return trip, when the plane of flight 212 of the Air France company crashed in Guadeloupe.

Apart from this photogenic recreation, the other statues that currently retain their original pukao are those of the Ahu Nau Nau, located on the beautiful Anakena beach, and the second moai of the Ahu Tongariki.


The only moai with eyes

View of the "new eyes" of the moai of the Ahu Ko Te Riku
View of the “new eyes” of the moai of the Ahu Ko Te Riku

The other differentiating element of the Ahu Ko Te Riku is that it supports the only moai that has eyes from the whole island. It is thought that when a moai was installed in his ahu, the eye sockets were carved and, in a ritual ceremony, the eyes made of white coral and obsidian pupils were placed. At that time it was considered that the statue came alive and could project the mana or spiritual power to protect its tribe. That is why all the moai look towards the interior of the island, as in Tahai, which is where the villages and their inhabitants were, and not towards the ocean.

Until recently it was not known that the statues had eyes. In the testimonies of the first Europeans who visited the island, no mention is made of this aspect of the moai, so it seems that they were eliminated and destroyed during the tribal wars that ended up demolishing all the statues. But in 1978, during the excavations of the Ahu Nau Nau in Anakena, an original coral eye was discovered fortuitously and now displayed in the Sebastian Englert Museum.

The “new eyes” worn by the moai of the Ahu Ko Te Riku, made of white coral and volcanic tuff, were placed in 1990 with the idea of recreating what the original figure might have looked like.


Tips for visiting the Ahu Ko Te Riku

A group of tourists watching the Ahu Ko Te Riku
A group of tourists watching the Ahu Ko Te Riku

The visit of the Ahu Ko Te Riku, located in Tahai, can be done by hiring some of the excursions offered by most of the island’s tourism agencies. The Tahai complex is usually included in some of the half-day tours, in which other places of interest are also visited.

Read more about Easter Island Tours

The other and most usual option is to do it on your own, due to how easy it is to get here both by vehicle and on foot.

In any case, it is necessary to buy in advance the ticket to the Rapa Nui National Park to enter the site. The ticket is valid for 10 days to visit the different archaeological sites, which can be visited several times, with the exception of Orongo and the Rano Raraku volcano quarry that can only be done once.

More information about Rapa Nui National Park

Although in Tahai there is no ticket office where the ticket must be presented, it can be requested at any time by the park rangers, so it is convenient to have it on hand.

There is also no access control or an opening and closing schedule due in part to Tahai, so to speak, is a large public square where locals and visitors can move freely provided that the rules of the National Park are respected. Another fact to keep in mind is that there are no public toilets at Tahai for the use of visitors.

The best sunset on Easter Island

Ahu Ko Te Riku moai silhouette at sunset
Ahu Ko Te Riku moai silhouette at sunset

The view of Tahai is impressive at any time, but since you can access the site as many times as you like, we recommend visiting the place at least twice, if you spend enough time on the island.

The first ideal moment is in the early morning, which is when the sun illuminates the front of the statues and the best time to take pictures of the moai and people.

The second moment and perhaps the most wanted by tourists happens at sunset. Many travelers head to Tahai to watch the sunset behind the moai statues. The sunset light backlit the silhouettes of the statues on a background that changes color as the sun is hidden on the horizon. It is created an unforgettable magical and mystical moment for any visitor.

A table with views

View of the Ahu Ko Te Riku from the Te Moai Sunset restaurant
View of the Ahu Ko Te Riku from the Te Moai Sunset restaurant

A perfect place to enjoy the views of the Ahu Ko Te Riku and excellent cuisine is the Te Moai Sunset restaurant. It is located next to the north access of the Tahai complex, where the vehicles park. Its tasty dishes mix local ingredients and preparations with others of Peruvian and international inspiration.

Another ideal option to contemplate this beautiful panorama is the new Puka Puka located in the Tahai viewpoint. From the same owners as the now classic Haka Honu, he shares with him a relaxed atmosphere, magnificent views, an innovative menu and very appetizing cocktails.

Sleep next to the moai lulled by the waves

View of the moai of the Ahu Ko Te Riku from a room at Takarua Lodge
View of the moai of the Ahu Ko Te Riku from a room at Takarua Lodge

There is no other place in all of Rapa Nui to sleep closer to a moai than the Takarua Lodge. Despite its recent addition to the Easter Island hotel catalog, it has already become a tourists favorite. The personalized attention, the comfort of its rooms and an unbeatable location make the stay in this accommodation a unique experience.

Another nearby and cheaper option is the Ana Otai campsite. It is a family campsite, with a reduced capacity (no more than 20 people) so that visitors can share with the owners the customs and the Rapa Nui way of life. Keep in mind that it only opens during the high season, from November to March.

How to get to Tahai

Acceso desde el mirador de Tahai en Isla de Pascua
Access from the Tahai viewpoint

The Tahai complex is located a short distance from Hanga Roa, which makes it one of the relevant archaeological sites with easier access for the public. It can be reached by car from the center of town in just 5 minutes. The route starts in the Tekena Toro square, continues through the extension of Atamu Tekena main street and turns left on the Kainga road to reach the well-known Tahai viewpoint. In this place there is one of the main accesses to the set from where a complete panoramic view can be observed.

Another way to get there is using the same route as before, but instead of turning in Kainga, continue straight through Atamu Tekena until you reach the Anthropological Museum. After 100 meters, take a dirt road on the left that leads to a stone wall. You can park the vehicle, next to the Te Moai Sunset restaurant. Here there is another of the main entrances to the site.

The last alternative to arrive by vehicle and the most used route to go walking or by bicycle, is to take the road of the coast known as Policarpo Toro. The route starts at the lively Hanga Roa Otai cove, continues through Hanga Vare Vare and gets to the cemetery. Here there is a new parking lot where you can leave the car. From here you can continue walking or cycling along the path that borders the sea to reach Tahai.

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