Covering some 1,160 acres on the Kona Coast three miles north of Kailua-Kona, Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park is one of the best places on the Big Island to appreciate its indigenous heritage. The rather harsh-looking shorefront here supported a significant Native Hawaiian community for many centuries. Evidence of that settlement on display in the park informs visitors of ancient traditional lifeways—and provides a cultural touchstone for contemporary Native Hawaiians.
Back in the 1970s, a group of Hawaiian elders (kupuna) constituting the Honokohau Study Advisory Committee advocated for this richly historical area’s protection by the National Park Service. This led to the park’s establishment in 1978.
The landscape is built on aa and pahoehoe lava flows released by the Hualalai Volcano. Hualalai is one of five major shield volcanoes making up the Big Island’s bulk. The long-ago residents of Kaloko-Honokohau extracted a living from this dry, rocky coast. Trade with extended family (ohana) in the interior uplands enhanced their sustenance. (This was an example of the traditional Hawaiian land-allotment system—ahupuaa—which gave communities access to the bounty from the mountain heights to the seacoast.)
Among the numerous archaeological sites within Kaloko-Honokohau are house-platform remnants, temples/shrines (heiau), graves, and ancient footpaths. Along Honokohau Beach—a fine place for relaxation in general—you can see a heiau as well as the Aiopio Fishtrap. This is one of several very significant fishing and aquaculture installations in the park. Others include two of the Kona Coast’s most noteworthy ancient fishponds: Aimakapa and Kaloko.
Aimakapa Fishpond in the southern part of the park was fashioned from a natural embayment blocked off by sand dunes. Hawaiians dug a canal between this lagoon and the ocean to facilitate circulation and efficient marine harvest.
To the north, the remarkable Kaloko Fishpond includes the largest ancient seawall, or kuapa, on the Big Island. Residents centuries ago constructed this wall out of lava rock to form an aquaculture enclosure. Within the seawall—better than 800 feet long and 40 feet wide—they installed sluicegates to allow fish to enter with the rising tide. The gates closed at full tide, trapping the fish within the artificial pond. Storms in the 1950s ravaged the ancient kuapa, but the Park Service has meticulously worked to restore it.
Kaloko Fishpond has an intriguing cultural association. It’s one of the sites rumored to contain the bones of Kamehameha the Great, the legendary unifier and first ruler of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Kamehameha I died at Kamakahonu on Kailua Bay to the south, but his remains were transported to a secret burial location. Some say it’s under the waters of Kaloko Fishpond.
Besides fishing and harvesting in the ocean and the aquaculture ponds, Kaloko-Honokohau residents also cultivated crops such as coconuts and sweet potatoes and reared pigs and chickens. They obtained foodstuffs such as taro and breadfruit from their upland relatives.
Walking paths in Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park provide looks at the fishponds and fish trap as well as petroglyphs. One of the routes traces a portion of the historic Ala Mamalahoa, the King’s Trail.
Birders will enjoy looking for year-round residents such as Hawaiian stilts, coots, and black-crowned night herons in the coastal wetlands, plus winter migrants such as Pacific golden plovers and wandering tattlers. Along with the fishponds, the park includes numerous anchialine pools, spring-fed coastal ponds that—besides historically providing freshwater to Kaloko-Honokohau residents—offer habitat for Hawaiian red shrimp.
Snorkelers, meanwhile, can enjoy tropical fish and green sea turtles in the nearshore coral reef. Green turtles sometimes haul out to bask on the beachfront, as do, occasionally, endangered Hawaiian monk seals. (If you luck out and see either a turtle or seal on the beach, give them lots and lots of room to avoid disturbing them!)
Visitor facilities in the park—free to enter and open daily—include restrooms and a picnic area near the Kaloko Fishpond. Get your bearings at Hale Hookipa, the park’s visitor center, which also includes a bookstore. The visitor center is one of several access points to the park off the Queen Kaahumanu Highway (Route 19). Explore the south end via Honokohau Harbor. The unpaved Ala Kaloko Road provides access to the northern part of the park, including the Kaloko Fishpond and the picnic area.
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park holds special significance to Native Hawaiian people, but it’s fascinating and rewarding for any Big Island sightseer to check out!
From November to April, the Kaloko-Honokohau shorefront often provides a good vantage for seeing wintering humpback whales.