If you’re interested in learning more about the rich culture of ancient Hawaiians should make a day to visit the Big Island’s Pu’uhonua ‘O Hanaunau National Historical Park. The Historical Park covers 420 acres (1.7km2) of land surrounded by the white sand and blue waters of Honaunau Bay and Keone’ele Cove. The park itself is home to thousands of buildings, cultural artifacts, works of art and archeological sites that span over a period of more than 400 years. Self-guided tours, walking trails and daily ranger talks make it an excellent, and family friendly, place for a day-trip.
Pu’uhonua ‘O Hanaunau, or “Place of Refuge,” was a sacred place for ancient Hawaiians. Any individual who could make their way to Pu’uhonua and obtain absolution from a kahuna pule (priest), including kapu (sacred law) breakers, with be granted sanctuary from their pursuers—even if they had been sentenced to death. Surrounding the sanctuary is a tremendous “Great Wall.” The L-shaped 965 foot long structure stands 12 feet tall and 18 feet wide, surrounding the majority of Pu’uhonua.
Not far from the sacred grounds of the sanctuary is a mile long trail that stretches along the coast, offering travelers a beautiful look at the Pacific Ocean, and leads to what remains of fishing and farming village named Ki’ilae Village. Ki’ilae was one of the few remaining villages where native Hawaiians practice traditional crafts and farming techniques, prior to European settlement on the islands. In the village visitors can see an array of traditionally-constructed homes, agricultural artifacts, animal pens and even salt vats.
This tremendous historical park is also home to an authentic reconstruction, called the Hale-o-Keawe Heiau Temple. Surrounding the building are enormous, hand-carved depictions of the gods, called Ki’i, that serve to protect and mark the Sacred Grounds of the temple. The structure was originally constructed in honor of Keawe’ikekahiali’i o kamoku, the great-grandfather of Ancient Hawaiian King Kamehameha I. Since being built, the Heiau has become the final resting place for the remains of Kona’s nobility, housing the bones of 23 ali’i (chiefs); the spiritual power of these chiefs was believed to grant the area its spiritual and sacred power. In 1818, the son of King Kamehameha I became the last individual to be buried in Hale-o-Keawe Heiau.
The park’s visitor center opens their doors at 8:30 am every morning and remains open to visitors until 4:30 pm. Stop inside to grab an informational guide to the park, or attend one of the free, twice-daily ranger talks (at 10:30 am and 2:30 pm) at the park’s beautiful amphitheater to learn more about the culture and industry of ancient Hawaiians who lived in the area. Between Tuesday and Saturday, visitors even have the opportunity to experience some of the traditional crafts of ancient Hawaiians, including: fishing, carving and weaving.