The traveling moai of Easter Island

The traveling moai at Ahu Tongariki Easter Island Rapa Nui

The A Vere moai, known as the “traveling moai”, is located at the entrance to Tongariki and is one of the most photographed statues on Easter Island. Know its history.


The Guardian of Tongariki

traveling moai the guardian of Tongariki Easter Island Rapa Nui
The traveling moai guards the entrance to the Ahu Tongariki

A singular statue welcomes the visitor who enters the archaeological site of the Ahu Tongariki. It is located on the left, a few steps from the access to this magical place, in front of the park rangers control kiosk and very close to the remains of a hare paenga or boat-house.

This imposing sculpture is known as “A Vere” moai, a name that seems to be recent since its old name and its exact original location are unknown. This moai, which now appears upright on the grass and not on an ahu or platform as usual, spent several years on a slope with its back to the sea and the ahu Tongariki.

Read more about the moai, the giant statues of Easter Island

His face, with the carved eye sockets, is currently facing the opposite side to which the statues on the platform look, as if he wanted to show his anger at not having been included in the monument. However, the reality is that this interesting figure, in addition to not belonging to this ahu, has enjoyed greater prominence than its fifteen stony neighbours.


The traveling moai

The traveling moai with the Rano Raraku volcano in the background
The traveling moai with the Rano Raraku volcano in the background

One of his moments of fame was achieved when in 1982 he was shipped to Japan to participate in an exhibition in the city of Osaka. When he returned to Easter Island some time later from his trip abroad, the islanders called him “the traveling moai” and he has been popularly known ever since.

Ever since the Japanese government, together with the Tadano company, collaborated in the reconstruction of the Ahu Tongariki, the friendly relations that arose between Rapa Nui and Japan have always been manifested through a moai. One of the latest examples of this mutual affection is the new moai, made by Rapanui artist Benedicto Tuki, which Chile gave to the Japanese people of Minami Sanriku to replace an old replica devastated after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011.

The moai who “walked” again

Imagen que muestra el experimento de Pavel Pavel Isla de Pascua
Image showing the Pavel Pavel experiment

The second moment of glory of the moai “A Vere” occurred in 1986 when it was used in the experiments carried out by Pavel Pavel. This Czech engineer was invited by Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl to participate in his second expedition to Easter Island and demonstrate his theories on the transportation of the statues.

An ancient legend tells that the moai statues walked from the Rano Raraku quarry to their final position in the numerous ahus or platforms scattered around the island, thanks to the mana or divine power. Pavel Pavel’s most practical and earthy ideas were intended to make the moai walk using a technique similar to that used to move a refrigerator.

After making a first attempt at a smaller statue now found outside the Sebastian Englert Museum, he used this moai for his final test. On February 5, 1986, Pavel Pavel, with a group of less than twenty people, well-attached ropes and his particular technique, managed to get the moai to advance a few meters vertically with a rocking motion.

It was quite an achievement making “to walk” this 4-meter-high, 9-tonne moai, which despite exhibiting “wounds” produced by the ropes during its travels and experiments, continues to emanate an energy from another time.

Conservation of the “A Vere” moai

Detail of the lichen covered A Vere moai before restoration
Detail of the lichen covered A Vere moai before restoration

The moai A Vere, as with most other statues, has suffered for centuries from the erosion of the humid and subtropical climate typical of Easter Island. The most visible sign of this deterioration are the white spots that cover the surface of the statues.

These spots are actually a lichen, an organism product of the union between a seaweed and a fungus, which develops in humid environments and invades the stone creating crusts, reminiscent of leprosy that once existed in Rapa Nui.

This lichen can alter the surface of the rock in such a way that over time the moai statues could become simple rectangular monoliths. Faced with such a threat, experts have begun to restore and protect the first moai from the harmful effects of lichens.

Cleaning and conservation intervention of the A Vere moai
Cleaning and conservation intervention of the A Vere moai | Photo: Conaf

The first cleaning and conservation tests were carried out on the moai statues of the Ahu Tongariki and more recently on the moai of the Ahu Ature Huki in Anakena. In 2015, CONAF experts treated A Vere moai with specific products for the island’s own conditions.

This type of intervention consists of several phases. First, a biocidal agent that destroys lichens is applied, then its extraction is carried out before protecting the surface with a consolidating product. Finally, a water repellent is applied, which prevents water from penetrating into the rock but allows steam to circulate to prevent moisture from accumulating inside it and lichen to survive.

This treatment aims to conserve the moai and try to stop the deterioration caused by the action of water and wind, two meteorological agents very present on the island. The problem lies in its high cost and the need to protect hundreds of legendary figures that are a World Heritage Site.

The A Vere moai looks renewed after the restoration process
The A Vere moai looks renewed after the restoration process

The budget required to treat the statues affected by the weather is estimated to exceed US$ 500 million, an amount that the Rapa Nui community cannot bear alone. For this reason, some propose that the countries that display looted moai statues throughout history, collaborate economically in the conservation of island statues.

Among them, the famous moai Hoa Hakananai’a that the British Museum treasures and whose return is demanded by many inhabitants of Rapa Nui stands out. Others suggest that it would be better for this moai to remain in London as an island ambassador, in exchange for the museum providing resources to help protect the stone giants of Easter Island.

Tips for visiting the traveling moai

The traveling moai with dawn light
The traveling moai with dawn light

The visit of the traveling moai and the Ahu Tongariki can be done by hiring one of the excursions offered by most of the island’s tourism agencies. This archaeological site is usually included in one of the full-day tours, with guide and transportation, where other places of interest are also visited.

More information about Easter Island Tours

The other option is to do it on your own, but for this you will have to arrive by vehicle, since you are far enough from Hanga Roa to to get there 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 the Rapa Nui National Park

The access to the site is on the west side, where the “traveling moai” is located. In front of it there is a parking area to leave the vehicles. After crossing the wall, you must go to the right to present the ticket in the kiosk of the National Park. Ahu Tongariki opens shortly before dawn until 6:00 p.m.

Another fact to keep in mind is that in Ahu Tongariki there are no toilets or food services for visitors. The closest ones are 1.7 km away in Rano Raraku, where in addition to public baths, handicraft stalls and a cafeteria, a picnic area for travelers who bring their own food has been enabled.

How to get to the traveling moai

View of the Ahu Tongariki from the slope of the Rano Raraku volcano
View of the Ahu Tongariki from the slope of the Rano Raraku volcano

Those people who do not wish to hire an organized tour, can get to the traveling moai and Tongariki on their own in a simple way. To arrive by car from Hanga Roa, take Hotu Matu’a Avenue towards Anakena beach, then turn right at the crossroads indicating the road to Rano Raraku and continue for approximately 15 kilometers along the road that runs along the coast, while enjoying the scenery.

Rent your car to tour the island

Another quite recommendable alternative is to get by bicycle. It is possible to rent bikes in Hanga Roa where they also provide customers with maps and everything necessary for their tours.

The outward journey takes approximately 1 hour and a half doing it calmly. The coastal road offers the possibility of enjoying the sea breeze and the view of the cliffs during the whole journey, as well as stopping at other archaeological sites that are on this side of the island. You have to be careful with the horses that cross and with some sections of rough asphalt where some bumps have formed.

Location map