Meaning “Temple on the Hill of the Whale,” Puukohola Heiau is on the National Register for Historic Places. It is situated on the northwestern coast of the island of Hawaii in Kawaihae on the Kohala Coast, located one mile south of Kawaihae Harbor. The site marks the ruins of the last major Ancient Hawaiian temple and is a significant part of the foundation of a nation.
The history of this culturally significant location began in the late 1700s when the island of Hawaii was in the heated midst of a bloody civil war. During this time two great warrior chiefs, Keoua Kuahuula and his first cousin Kaemehameah found their destinies and fates entangled, and their story is forever memorialized at Puukohola Heiau. The Puukohola Heau was built by Kamehameha I to appease the war god Kukailimoku. Consequently, for Hawaiians today, this site represents a symbol of lasting peace and unification.
Visiting this rich historical site, which is the largest restored heiau (temple) in all of Hawaii, allows you to walk where kings once traveled, and to delve into the beginning of the Hawaiian Kingdom. This impressive temple was hand-built, properly on the site of an older temple, using no mortar at all, constructed in less than a year. Its construction was made possible by human chains, moving red stones and lava rock some 14 to 25 miles from Pololu Valley to the East, a process that involved thousands of workers. The summer of 1791 marked the massive structure’s completion. It measured 224 by 100 feet and is a good example of dry-stack masonry, which is a method of ancient Hawaiian construction.
The Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site is open year-round excluding Federal Holidays, with the visitor center open from 8 am to 4:45 daily. The parking lot closes each day at 5 pm. There is no entry fee to visit the area. In addition to the historic significance of the structure that still stands today, is the fact that the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site is also an ideal and scenic spot to look for humpback whales off the Kohala Coast, during the spring and winter months. This is perhaps why the site got its name meaning “Temple on the Hill of the Whale.” There are restrooms and drinking fountains available on site.
When visiting this park via a walking tour, you can discover even more nearby historic sites. For example, the ruins of the Mailekini Heiau, built in the 1500s, the Hale o Kapuni, a submerged heiau dedicated to the shark gods, the homestead of John Young, who was a stranded British sailor who served King Kamehameha I, are also part of the grounds. The entire trail is only ½ mile long, which means you can walk it between 20 and 30 minutes. Of course, if you take your time and enjoy the process, your visit could last a few hours. It really just depends on how much time you want to spend in this historic location. It is a fairly easy hike with paved and gravel trails which are ideal for a light stroll.
If you would like to experience this site on a whole other level, consider paying a slight fee for a Ranger-led tour, which will educate you on every significant structure on the grounds. Of course, exploring on your own can also be fun and rewarding. Many people who enjoy painting or drawing find the area inspirational, so bring along a sketch pad, so you can take advantage of the inspiration you might enjoy at this site.
-The trailhead to the historic park is located a mile south of Kawaihae
-Guests are encouraged to wear standard hiking gear and to bring sun protection and water.
-In addition to seeing the whales and dolphins playing offshore from the historic site, you can enjoy bird watching in either late afternoons or early morning. You might even see the pueo or Hawaiian owl scouting the fields for prey.