North of Tongariki, RANO RARAKU rises from the land in a hulking mass of volcanic stone. This crag is where almost all of the island’s statues were produced, carved directly from the “tuff” (compacted volcanic ash) of the crater’s outer slopes. The first surprise, on approaching the crater from the car park, are the dozens of giant heads sprouting from the ground. They are, in fact, finished moai brought down from the quarry, which were probably placed in shallow pits (that gradually built up) until they could be transported to their ahu. One of them bears an image on its chest of a three-masted sailing ship, suggesting that they were carved after European contact.
Among this mass of shapes, still attached to the rock face, is El Gigante, the biggest moai ever carved, stretching over 20m from top to bottom. Experts believe that it would have been impossible to transport, let alone erect.
The east end of the trail culminates in the kneeling, round-headed Moai Tukuturi, the only one of its kind, discovered by Thor Heyerdahl’s expedition in 1955. To the west, the trail winds its way up between wild guava trees into the crater itself, with several dirt paths running through knee-high shrubbery alongside the large reed-strewn, freshwater lake. If you follow the trails all the way up to the crater’s eastern rim (avoid treading on the toppled moai right at the top) you are rewarded with unparalleled views of the bay and Ahu Tongariki in the distance.