Ana Te Pahu
The volcanic eruptions that gave rise to Easter Island thousands of years ago, created lava channels that cover much of the subsoil. Ana Te Pahu, located on the foothill of the Maunga Terevaka, is the largest cavern on the island and the best example of these large volcanic tubes.
A large drum of petrified lava
Probably, Ana Te Pahu solidified thousands of years ago during the eruption of Maunga Hiva Hiva, a small crater that caused the last lava spill. The latest explorations, carried out by several speleologists, have discovered that it is formed by several underground chambers interconnected whose total route exceeds 7 kilometers in length.
Ana Te Pahu could be translated like “the cave of the drum“, since pahu in Rapanui language designates a type of drum. This name comes from the thin layer of hardened lava that covers the cavity forming a gigantic natural drum of a kilometer and a half in diameter. If you hit or jump over the lava bark, a vibration resonates inside.
Housing, pond and shelter
The ancient inhabitants used this cave as a dwelling, taking advantage of its great breadth and ease of access. This is proved by the remains of umu pae (old stone ovens) where they cooked the food. The ceiling openings caused by collapses of material prevented smoke from accumulating inside.
One of the main chambers of Ana Te Pahu was used as a water reservoir, since the frequent precipitations, typical of the subtropical climate, filter through the rock and accumulate in the interior. This allowed the residents to have a very accessible water reserve and saved the journey to more remote natural wetlands, such as Rano Aroi.
This natural pond was especially useful in times when Ana Te Pahu served as a refuge. Here the ancient Rapanui hid during the clashes that arose between the different tribes to hold the power and during the series of sad “raids” in search of slaves, which were organized in the middle of century XIX.
The bananas cave, a natural nursery garden
Ana Te Pahu is also known as the “cave of bananas” because there are a lot of these trees at the entrance located a few meters below the surface. Next to them grow vines, avocados and tubers like taro or yam. The great humidity inside and the protection of the wind that offers the cave favored its use like manavai or natural nursery by the old islanders. Here they planted a great variety of crops, which thanks to the light of the sun and the frequent rain, developed abundantly.
At the entrance of Ana Te Pahu can also be observed, better with the help of a guide, petrified footprints of the endemic palm of Rapa Nui, called niu, which in primitive times spread over much of the island.
Exploring the cave
The entrance to the cave is made by one of the sectors where the lava layer collapsed. You have to go down some big and deteriorated stone steps with caution. It is recommended to carry a flashlight to access the darker areas and suitable shoes for walking between the stones and avoid slipping in the wetter areas.
Once down the large leaves of the banana trees welcome the visitor. You can continue on the left through a corridor surrounded by greenery. After walking a hundred meters you will reach a camera where a photogenic tree grows that rises to the outside through an opening in the ceiling. From outside, only the branches are seen and not the trunk so it looks like a large bush instead of a tree.
Returning the same way, the entrance is reached again. To the right of the stairs opens a large arch-shaped mouth that leads to a wide tunnel protected by stone barriers. These small walls forced the possible intruders to enter one by one, facilitating the defense of the occupants of the cave.
After a short journey in the gloom, a zone of clarity is reached, caused by a large skylight on the roof. The sun and rain that enter through the hole have made another mass of vegetation grow. In this place you can see a umu pae, an old oven formed by rectangular stones.
From here the cave narrows and darkens so you have to turn on the torch and lower your head. The more adventurous can continue the journey through this volcanic tube in which there is a smooth roof resulting from the passage of the lava and the pressure of the gases.
How to get to Ana Te Pahu
To arrive by car from Hanga Roa, take the Ara Roa Rakei street, which starts at the junction between the artisan market and the parish, in the direction of Ahu Akivi. At this point, the Te Ana or the caves circuit, offered by most of the agencies, usually starts and includes the visit to Ana Te Pahu, Ana Te Pora and Ana Kakenga.
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Ana Te Pahu is located about a kilometer and a half from Akivi, and it is easy to get there after a short 10-15 minute walk. You have to cross a control post where it is necessary to show the National Park ticket. From here you can only continue walking or cycling.
A few minutes later you reach a wooded area with a sign that says “Sector Ana Te Pahu”. On the left are the steps through which one descends to the cave.