Puna Pau - Pukao

Easter Island - Rapa Nui

Puna Pua gets it name from Puna which means a well, one that surely used to be near here a long time ago. Now it is more famously known as the site where the pukao were carved.

What is a Pukao?

On the top of the heads of some of the Easter Island Moai you may see a reddish rock that looks like a hat. Well, these did not represent hats but instead a topknot (of hair). You can see examples of them in the photo below (these moai with their pukao are at Anakena)

Moai with Pukao on their heads

These pukao were added at a later stage in the history of moai making and were only placed on the largest moai at the most important ahu (ceremonial sites). In total less than 100 pukao have been found with 30 of these still remaining in the Puna Pau quarry or nearby. What historians generally agree upon is that the pukao were added during tribal rivalries in an effort to make more impressive and elaborate ahu.

The rock used for the pukao is red scoria rock that came out of a quarry built inside the small crater of an extinct volcano here at Puna Pau. While this type of rock is porous and not suitable for sculptures, 20 small statues (including Tukuturi) are known to have been carved from the red rock from here.

The size of the Pukao

The dimensions of the pukao vary according to the size of the moai it was destined for. Many of them are around 2 metres (6ft 6”) in diameter and 2 metres high and weigh around 11 tons. While some of the pukao at Puna Pau are slightly larger with a diameter of 3 metres (10ft). This is because once they reached the site, designs were carved into them and they were polished making them smaller.

Puna Pau Pukao

How did they get the Pukao on top of the Moai?

It is thought that the pukao, being round, were rolled to their intended sites but how they were eventually placed on top (they’re not exactly light) is still unknown. On theory is that large ramps were used to drag them to the top.

What is there to see at Puna Pau?

Puna Pau is where almost all of the pukao came from.

On the hillside you can see some of these giant red stones that never made their final destination. If you look closely some of them have petroglyphs.

The quarry itself is a little further up the hill in the small crater. When we were there an excavation was in progress within the crater itself. If you continue just a little further up the hill you will find a great view of Hanga Roa and the surrounding area.

Puna Pau Easter Island

Unfortunately the signs with an explanation of the site have deteriorated considerably (due to the weather) and are illegible. It may pay to come with a guide or learn about the place beforehand.

How to get to Puna Pau

The road to Puna Pau is completely paved. When you leave Hanga Roa and follow the main road that crosses the island leading to Anakena, you will see a road branching out to the left. This is the road that takes you to Ahu Akivi as well. It should be signposted and from memory it is the first road going left after the airport. Just so you know, it’s about 500 metres/yards after the right turnoff that takes you along the coast to Rano Raraku and Ahu Tongariki. Once along this road, look out for another road coming off to the left after a minute of two. There should be a sign saying Puna Pau. Follow this road and you will arrive in a couple of minutes. This road ends at the Puna Pau site (there is parking).

What next?

From Puna Pau you have Ahu Akivi just 4km (2.5miles) away where you can see the only moai that are looking towards the sea.

More photos of Puna Pau

Puna Pau Petroglyph Pukao at Puna Pao View of Easter Island from Puna Pau

NOTE: Rob W. and Ange P. spent a week on Easter Island at the end of January 2013 to produce most of the information, photos and videos we have here.

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