Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park – Take an Amazing Walk Through Hawaiian History
The Bottom Line:

For a look back into Hawaiian history while enjoying gorgeous landscapes, plan a trip to the Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park. Located on the western shores of the Big Island, this historic safehouse offers spectacular sights everywhere you look. Beyond that, learning opportunities abound, giving you a chance to honor local culture.  

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

If you love exploring the rich history of Hawaii, definitely plan to visit the Puuhonua O Honaunau History Park. Located on the Big Island’s western coast, this parkland contains both the Puuhonua and the Royal Grounds. People from all over the globe are welcome to come explore the parklands and learn about their importance in ancient Hawaiian culture.

Upon arriving to the Puuhonua O Honaunau History Park, you’ll get a map that leads you through the sights and tells you all about their history. You’ll want to start your journey at the Puuhonua before venturing over to the temple and exploring the Royal Grounds. All the while, stay on the clearly marked paths to avoid disturbing the archeological remains.

Originally constructed as a sacred place of refuge, the Puuhonua served as a place for warriors and other individuals to seek sanctuary. Many individuals would try to race to the sanctuary after violating kapu, or ancient laws, before their pursuers could capture and punish them. Women and children displaced by war would often land at the sanctuary as well where they could stay safe as the wars raged on outside.

While exploring the Puuhonua grounds, you’ll want to go out to the lava rocks along Honaunau Bay. People trying to escape their assailants would need to brave the waters of the bay to reach safety. Oftentimes, they would need to swim for days to reach the lava rocks outside the Puuhonua. So, as you look out onto the bay, think about how long that would have taken and give a moment of silence for the many people who never made it over.

Once the warriors hit the shore, the residents would come out and lead them beyond the great wall to safety. Then, they would get nutritious food and plenty of rest until their bodies healed. Only then would they start working on healing their mind and spirit to gain the strength needed to move on through the next phase of life. While the structures inside the sanctuary no longer exist, you can find carvings on the rocks and let the land tell the story of their lives.

At nearly 1,000 feet long, 10-feet high, and 17-feet wide, the great wall offered plenty of protection to those inside. The Heiau, or sacred temple, right outside the wall offered protection, too, just in spiritual form. In the past, the temple contained the bones of 23 past chiefs. Although they’ve long since been relocated, their mana remains, ensuring it stays a sacred place forevermore. You can only view the temple from the outside, but its gorgeous structure and kii statues all around are well worth a look.   

Along the other side of the wall is the Royal Grounds where the ancient chiefs would meet for their ceremonies. While looking around, you’ll get to see the Keoneele Cove where the royal canoes would land. Plus, you’ll get a glimpse of the thatched workhouses, fishing ponds, boats, and so much more.

You can usually make it past all the sights in about two hours. If you need to stop for a rest break, there are plenty of restrooms onsite for public use. As for seating, just grab a spot on the beach and enjoy the view of the oceanfront.

Insider Tips:
-Both kids and adults can join the Junior Ranger program to learn, explore, and protect the land. You can request your booklet by mail or email by going to the National Park Service (NPS) site.
-Miss the sights upon returning home? Take the virtual tour before leaving the NPS site.
-Never move or otherwise displace the rock formations in the park. Although you can walk on the lava rock shores, don’t climb on the walls or boulders.
-If you see any turtles on the beach during your visit to Puuhonua O Honaunau History Park, stay at least 10 feet away and simply observe them from a distance. Otherwise, you could disrupt their natural behaviors and end up with a big fine.