Puna Pau, the quarry of pukao
The visit to the quarry of the Puna Pau volcano, where the pukao were extracted and carved, is recommended to understand how the large red cylinders that adorned the statues were made. In Puna Pau a cycle that began several centuries earlier with the carving of the moai in Rano Raraku is closed.
The main quarry of red scoria
Puna Pau is a small extinct volcano, located about 7 kilometers northeast of Hanga Roa, whose name refers to a source or well of water that should have existed in its surroundings. This crater is part of a set of parasitic cones that emerged during the eruptions of Ma’unga Terevaka, the youngest and highest volcano on Easter Island.
Inside the Puna Pau crater there is a quarry of red scoria that was once an important source of raw material for the islanders. The red scoria or hani hani, as it is known in the Rapanui language, is a type of volcanic ash of great porosity and scarce hardness, which shows a reddish color due to the iron oxide present in its composition.
The characteristics of this soft and easy to carve material, which made it unsuitable for construction, were used to manufacture various types of objects, some very special. Among them there are about twenty statues of small size, containers for water, called taheta, blocks of ornamental type and eyes of moai.
Although there are other deposits of red scum on the island, the Puna Pau quarry was the most important of all, and is believed to be the origin of most of the known objects carved in hani hani. This relevance may possibly be due to the strong reddish color of its material, since in Rapanui culture the color red is a symbolic color associated with sacred rites and mana or spiritual strength.
Puna Pau, the pukao factory
Currently, the Puna Pau crater is just a depression in the land covered with vegetation. Only a few outcrops of scoria are visible on the southern slope, where a rock wall shows several stripes of reddish material.
The current form of the small volcano is the result of the intervention of the hand of man throughout history. According to the latest excavations, during the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries an intense work of extraction was developed in the Puna Pau quarry, whose main motive was the elaboration of the pukao or cylindrical headdresses that crowned some of the statues of Easter Island.
Read more about pukao, the moai headdresses
Like the southern slope of the Rano Raraku volcano was the origin of most of the statues of the island, it is thought that a third of the crater of Puna Pau was used to manufacture all the pukao. It is also believed that in the quarry different work teams were formed that competed to have their own production areas.
However, unlike Rano Raraku, it seems that Puna Pau was considered a secret and sacred place. Its hidden location from other parts of the island, an almost silent production, that was made inside the crater, and a red color especially valued contributed to its isolation and mysticism.
Tips for visiting Puna Pau
The visit to Puna Pau can be done by hiring some of the excursions offered by most of the island’s tourism agencies. This archaeological site is usually included in some of the half-day tours with a guide and transport included, in which other places of interest such as the Ahu Akivi are visited.
Read more 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 it is a bit far from Hanga Roa to walk.
In any case, it is necessary to buy in advance the ticket to the Rapa Nui National Park to enter the site. Although the entry is valid for 10 days to visit the different sites of interest, the visit to Orongo and the quarry of the Rano Raraku volcano can only be done once.
More information about Rapa Nui National Park
There is a single entrance to the site, located just in front of the parking lot to leave the vehicles. Here it is necessary to present the National Park ticket. The place remains open from 9:00 a.m. until 18:00 p.m.
Another fact to keep in mind is that in Puna Pau there are no toilettes or food for visitors. The closest ones are in Ahu AKivi Roa located 5 km far away.
The total route (round trip) is about 400 meters. The visit starts on the path on the right, where the first pukao appear on the left. There is an interpretive panel and then the path ascends to a small viewpoint. To one side you can see the inner quarry of the crater and towards the other you can enjoy a magnificent view of the outskirts of Hanga Roa, the Pacific Ocean and the cultivated land where the soft volcanic cones stand out.
It is strictly forbidden to leave the signposted path and touch the pukao. It is also not allowed to go down to the inside of the small crater.
It is advisable to bring sunscreen, comfortable clothes and sports shoes with a thick sole, since the part of the path that leads to the crater and the viewpoint is a bit steep and can be slippery especially if it has recently rained.
How to get to Puna Pau
The Puna Pau volcano is located about 7 km from Hanga Roa. Those people who do not wish to hire an organized tour that includes transportation, can easily reach Puna Pau by renting a car, a quad or a bicycle. Another option would be to take a taxi to take them to the quarry, and ask the driver to wait until the end of the visit or to pick them up at an agreed time.
To get there by car from Hanga Roa, the most direct route is to take Hotu Matu’a Avenue, where the airport is located, and continue towards Vaitea on the road that crosses the island that reaches Anakena. After leaving behind a first detour to the right that leads to Rano Raraku and after advancing half a kilometer, you arrive at a second crossing on the left with a sign indicating the direction to Ahu Akivi and Puna Pau. 500 meters from here to a last detour that appears again on the left towards Puna Pau. After traveling the last kilometer and a half you reach a small parking lot where you can leave the vehicle.
Another quite recommendable alternative is to go by bicycle since the route is quite flat. It is possible to rent bikes in Hanga Roa where they also provide customers with maps and everything necessary for their tours. Be careful with horses that can cross and with some sections of rough asphalt where some bumps have formed.