If you’re vacationing on Kauai and searching for historical and cultural sites to visit, then you need to plan a trip to Hikinaakala Heiau.
Hikinaakala Heiau is on the eastern shore of Kauai near the Hilton Garden Inn and the town of Wailua. Hikinaakala means “rising of the sun,” and heiau translates into “temple.” Scholars estimate that this heiau was constructed in the 13th century. Although only remnants remain, the original structure consisted of stone walls 6 ft. high and 11 ft. wide. The entire site sits on an acre of land near the mouth of the Wailua River.
Back when the temple was active, priests and locals would gather to pray and chant at sunrise. They associated dawn with prosperity, health, and empowering their chief. Here’s a sample of a chant:
O sun in the east
From the deep ocean
From the life in the ocean
Climb to the heights
To the sky above
In the east
There is the sun
The heiau would also have had a row of ki’i, or images, that faced the river. Religious priests and locals believed that these figureheads protected the heiau. According to legend, the ki’i would sway and tilt as the river rushed past.
Close to the heaiu is Hauola or pu’uhonua, a sacred place of refuge. Locals who had violated a religious, political, or social law, formerly known as kapu, could seek asylum. It was also a place of refuge during times of tribal war.
North of Hauola and partially submerged in the water are grey-blue basalt boulders with chiseled engravings called petroglyphs. These ancient markings depict fish, humans, and geometric shapes. Scholars are uncertain about the meaning of the petroglyphs, but they could represent past events held in that location. Depending on the water level of the river ocean tide, the carvings may be underwater. Sand and debris can also contribute to hiding these etchings. Although we can’t guarantee you’ll see these petroglyphs, we do suggest timing your visit with low tide.
The traditional Hawaiian religion that used Hikinaakala Heiau was abolished in 1819 by King Kamehameha II. During the 1800s, construction crews used heiau stones to create roads on Kauai. Today, not many temple boulders remain.
There are several other heiaus near Hikinaakala to explore. There is Poli’ahu Heiau that sits on a bluff overlooking the Wailua River. The Kalaeokamanu Heiau sits on the river’s opposite bank, and scholars believe it is one of Kauai’s oldest heiaus. Malae Heiau is a short distance inland from Hikinaakala Heiau. It is believed to be constructed before 1200 AD and sits on two acres.
Free parking is available at Lydgate State Park. Morning hours are the least crowded, but parking never seems to be an issue, even later in the day. Hikinaakala Heiau is a short walk from the parking area. While taking in Hikinaakala Heiau, be sure to read the park signs placed at key locations in the park. These explain in more detail the historical significance of the area.
When visiting Hikinaakala Heiau, remember that Hawaiians cherish these ancient sites. Many still consider them sacred. Show respect by observing the posted National Park signs and don’t climb or move any stones.
Pack a lunch, some towels, and swimming suits! Lydgate State Park has picnic tables and an ocean rock wall that protects swimmers from the rough surf. It’s a great spot for first-time snorkelers, too.