What if we told you there was a location on eastern Kauai where you could walk where Hawaiian royalty trod. Would you be interested?
And what if we added that this spot is a helau, or “temple; place of worship” revered by many Hawaiians. Have we piqued your curiosity?
We hope so because Pohaku Hoohanau (also spelled Pohakuho Ohanau) is such a place.
Located in the Wailua River State Park, Pohaku Hoohanau is part of the Wailua Complex of Helau, all of which became a National Historic Landmark in 1962. Pohaku Hoohanau is on the ocean side of Highway 56 (Kuhio Highway), and visitors add that parking is convenient. When crossing the highway, others advise being careful as traffic can be fast and frequent.
Archeologists and historical experts believe Pohakuho Ohanau was active between 1600-1700, but it may be older, too. The Wailua Complex was the epicenter of Kauai’s political and religious activities and temples. This helau was a sacred site where all the chiefs (known in Hawaiian as “ali’i”) were born to ensure chiefly status. Although only the stones remain, visitors can peruse the area and let their imagination carry them back in time when royalty gave birth in this helau. Remember, many Hawaiians still consider these stones sacred, so be respectful and do not touch or climb on them.
Pohakuho Ohanau translates into the “Royal Birthing Stones.” These sacred stones were where expecting mothers would come to deliver their babies. Before her due date, the mother would stay in a nearby hut (no longer there) to rest and prepare for her momentous day. When the time came, she would lay upon one stone and prop her feet on another (all of which remain) to give birth.
According to oral tradition, if the newborn baby were to be a great chief, the sky would be filled with thunder and lightning. Next, a rainbow would appear, the end of which would be at Pohakuho Ohanau.
Another tradition determining the child’s destiny hinges around the child’s umbilical cord. Once the royal baby was snug in its mother’s arms, a royal family member would shove the umbilical cord between stones that are present to this day. If the cord remained, it was proof the child would be great. If stolen by a rat, it was an omen that the child would be evil. The last chief born at Pohaku Hoohanau was Kaumuali’i in 1778.
As we said at the start, Pohakuho Ohanau is a sacred site you can explore where Hawaiian royalty, in previous centuries, lived and gave birth to many chiefs. The views of the Wailua River are picturesque, making this a “must-see” for fans of cultural sites.
Finding Pohakuho Ohanau can be tricky, as some visitors have missed them and visited other helaus by mistake. Our advice is to double-check your directions and consider this traveler’s tip: “They are literally on the corner where you turn to drive next to the Wailua River.”