National Historical Parks on the Big Island

Nov 15, 2020 | General Information

Easy to find, just south of Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport, Kaloko Honokohau National Historical Park is one of the best places in Hawaii to learn about the survival of early Hawaiian settlement on the Kona coast. Archeological sites are abundant and evidence of traditional Hawaiian activities are still visible. The park’s lava rocks cover more than 1000 acres. The Park includes house platforms (kahua), heiaus (religious sites), petroglyphs that depict community life, and other artifacts. Parts of the Mamalohoa Trail (Kings trail) are still intact. A trek along the Mamalahoa Trail leads to some of the most well-preserved petroglyphs on the island. Nearly 30,000 carvings of animals and people were left in lava flows by ancient Hawaiians. The trail, built in the mid-19th century for horse travel, used to stretch 32 miles from Kailua Kona north to Puako.

In what has become the Kaloko Honokohau National Historical Park, Hawaiian people harvested fish from both the sea and their fishponds. Several fishponds still remain. The fishponds are especially interesting. Originally inland bays, they illustrate the ingenious ways in which native Hawaiians worked to manage the environment. Ancient Hawaiians used one of these fishponds for well over 600 years. In addition to ancient fishponds, visitors can see remnants of the stone and coral wall that formed a large fishtrap. Native Hawaiians used the fishtrap to trap and catch fish during low tide. In addition to fishing, native Hawaiians grew coconuts, sweet potatoes, taro, and gourds and raised chickens and pigs.

A place of refuge and royal grounds south of Kealakekua Bay in South Kona, Puuhonua o Honaunau is a 180-acre national historic park that was once royal grounds and also a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiian lawbreakers. Kapu, or sacred laws, were of utmost importance to Hawaiian culture. Breaking of kapu had its consequences, including death. If one were to break kapu, their only chance for survival was to evade his pursuers and make it to a puuhonua, or a sacred place of refuge. Once there, a ceremony of absolution would take place and the one who broke kapu would be able to return to society.

Beautifully restored, Puuhonua o Honaunau was one of these sacred historic places. The grounds include a Great Wall, 12-feet high and 18-feet thick. Fierce wooden images of gods, guard the sacred temple that housed the bones of many alii (chiefs) who lived in the royal grounds. The black lava rock shoreline hindered those who broke kapu from approaching by sea. Fishponds, a temple and other sacred places in the Park provide vivid glimpses of early Hawaiian culture.