Tahai, the best sunset on the island
The ceremonial complex of Tahai is one of the most interesting places on Easter Island, because it combines archaeological remains of great historical importance with a landscape of great beauty located in front of the Pacific Ocean.
A historical and privileged location
The archaeological site of Tahai is one of the oldest settlements on the island whose earliest remains date back to 700 AD. It seems that these lands were occupied by the Marama clan, and perhaps the Miru clan, to raise its political and religious center. According to tradition, Tahai was the last place of residence of Ngaara, the last ariki mau or high-ranking ruler, who died and was buried here.
The occupation of Tahai by the first settlers was not fortuitous. In this place they had easy access to the sea to go fishing and a regular supply of fresh water from underground springs..
The Tahai site occupies a wide area that extends a little over 250 meters from north to south and about 200 meters from east to west. In this section, the terrain descends in a gentle slope from the interior until reaching the coast, where a small inlet called Hanga Moana Verovero is formed.
This site is a good example of how the ancient inhabitants modified the natural environment to adapt it to their needs. To achieve the final result that is now observed, they had to level and fill the land with thousands of cubic meters of earth and stone.
Remains of an ancient village
Tahai is the largest archaeological center and the best restored of those located near Hanga Roa. The elements found in Tahai follow the model of settlement found in other parts of the island, which allows to understand the lifestyle of the ancient inhabitants.
Several funerary chambers or avanga have been located which were built for the heads of the community and remains of boat-houses or hare paenga used by the most senior characters and their families. These constructions, so called because their shape resembles that of an inverted boat, consisted of a base of stones with holes that formed a long ellipse, where wooden posts were inserted that supported a grass roof. They had a single, narrow opening and a kind of terrace with pebbles in a semicircular shape. It is believed that they were only used to spend the night indoors.
According to the analysis of the architecture and other structures found during the restoration process, which was carried out between 1968 and 1970 by William Mulloy and Gonzalo Figueroa, it is estimated that between 75 and 200 people lived here. However, it seems that most of them used the nearby caves and rocky shelters as rooms, which they modified to make them more habitable.
Read more about Easter Island caves
Located in the middle and upper part of the space there are several chicken coops or hare moa. These elongated stone structures with small entrances were used to store chickens at night to prevent them from escaping or being stolen.
There is a classic style hare moa at the top near the lookout. Further down there are other structures that were built taking advantage of the unevenness of the terrain and that remind in their form the houses of Orongo. It seems that they were also used as chicken coops during the last period in which Tahai was inhabited, but it is not ruled out that they could have other functions such as housing or storage.
Other domestic constructions that can be found are tahetas or carved stones with the shape of a bowl to collect rainwater, remains of umu pae or cooking ovens made with stones and a little further north, on the other side of the wall near some small caves, there are several manavai or circles of rock used to protect crops.
The three ahu of Tahai
But without a doubt, the great focus of attention at Tahai are its three ahu or ceremonial platforms located on the small rocky cliff that rises above the sea. The altars form a visual line that stars in this magnificent setting. If you look straight at the platforms, the first group on the left with five moai statues is the Ahu Vai Uri, the next one is the Ahu Tahai and the last one with a single statue wearing a pukao or hat is the Ahu Ko Te Riku.
Ahu Vai Uri
The Ahu Vai Uri, whose name could be translated as dark water or green water, is the platform with the largest number of erected statues. Its construction dates from 1200 AD. and its five restored moai are a sample of the different styles of how they were carved.
The first one on the right is currently a piece of rock that is barely recognizable. However, the one that follows, much better preserved as such as the first on the left, has a lower and more robust body than the rest and shows a grim expression.
Read more about the moai, the giant statues
On the pedestal located further to the left a statue is missed. It seems that the moai that should occupy it now lies a few meters further south near Mulloy’s tomb, knocked face down on the ground and next to a worn stone head.
Ahu Tahai has a single solitary moai about 4.5 meters high. The figure, which is very eroded, shows a thick torso and a wide neck, and rises on the oldest platform of the complex built around 700 AD.
Despite the enormous wear suffered by the moai over time, it still shows the greatness and pride of the ancestors they represent and, in some way, still transmits that mythical power called mana.
The imposing masonry walls on which the platforms rise are interrupted between the Ahu Vai Uri and the Ahu Tahai by a ramp paved with stones that leads to the sea. It is believed that it was used to lower fishing boats from the upper level to the shore.
Ahu Ko Te Riku
Ahu Ko Te Riku is the last and singular platform located further north. Above it rises a single moai of 5.1 meters high that was restored with all the elements that adorned the old finished statues.
On his head it carries a pukao, a cylindrical piece carved in red scoria from the Puna Pau volcano. This form, which according to different opinions, represents a hat or a hair bun, was placed in the last phase of construction of the ahu. It is believed that the original pukao of this moai was used to carve the Christian cross that is found in the nearby cemetery to Tahai, but there is not even the certainty that it had one.
Apart from this recreation, the other statues that currently preserve their original pukao are those of the Ahu Nau Nau, located on the beautiful beach of Anakena, and the second moai on the right of the Ahu Tongariki.
The moai with eyes
The other differentiating element of Ahu Ko Te Riku is that it supports the only moai that has eyes of the whole island. It is thought that when a moai was installed in its ahu, the eye sockets were carved and, after that in a ritual ceremony, his eyes, made of white coral and obsidian pupils, were inserted in. At that time the statue was considered to come alive and could project the mana or spiritual power to protect its tribe. Therefore, 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 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 the eyes 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 eye of coral was unwittingly discovered and now exhibited in the Sebastian Englert Museum.
The tomb of William Mulloy
In the south area of the Tahai complex, about 50 meters to the left of the Ahu Vai Uri there is the tomb where the remains of William Mulloy rest. The famous anthropologist came to the island for the first time with the expedition of Thor Heyerdahl in 1955.
When he died three decades later, William Mulloy had become the leading figure in the archeology of Easter Island and a great promoter of their culture. Thanks to their work and determination, the emblematic sites of Ahu Akivi, Tahai and the village of Orongo were restored as well as other places.
Mulloy died of cancer in 1978 in the USA. and shortly after his ashes were buried here, in his beloved Rapa Nui. Next to him rest the remains of his wife Emily Rose, who died in 2003, who accompanied him in his long stays on the island and was present at the opening of the library that bears his name located in the Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum.
More information about the Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum
On the large rock reminiscent of Mulloy there is an inscription in the Rapanui, English and Spanish languages with the following epitaph:
In Rapanui it says: “Hai hāpī, hai haka tutu‘u i te ‘ariŋa ora, to‘ona here rahi mo Rapa Nui i haka tikea mai ai “(When studying and raising the living faces (moai), he showed us his great love for Rapa Nui).
In English it says: “By restoring the past of his beloved island he also changed its future“.
In Spanish it says: “Grande fue, como sus obras, su amor y entrega a Rapa Nui” (Great was, as his works, his love and dedication to Rapa Nui).
Tips for visiting Tahai
The visit to 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
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. 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.
How to get to Tahai
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.