Kauai, the Garden Isle, is most well-known for its lush landscapes that have largely been left undeveloped. However, this redevelopment of Kauai has another side effect — it has enabled the island to be one of the best places to see ancient Hawaiian locations and rich archeological areas like Makauwahi Cave and Poliahu Heiau.
Poliahu Heiau is located on the east side of Kauai, just minutes from the popular Wailua and Lydgate Beaches. It is a part of what is called the Wailua Complex of Heiaus. The word “heiau” is a Hawaiian term describing a type of temple. These temples were made in a variety of architectural styles that ranged from very simple earth terraces to much more elaborately constructed stone platforms. The Wailua Complex of Heiaus refers to seven such temples that stretch along the Wailua River from where it forms several miles inland to where it pours out into the ocean.
The different types of architectural styles generally reflected the different purposes of the heiaus. Pre-19th Century Hawaiians used various temples for ritualistic and medicinal purposes, such as to treat the sick and to provide sacrifices to the gods in order to assuage them to provide desired outcomes like achieving militaristic success, bringing about rainfall, and encouraging population growth. The Poliahu Heiau was built as a luakini heiau, which means that it was used for human and animal sacrifices.
To get to Poilahu Heiau, you will follow Kuamoo Road (also known as Hawaii Highway 580) on the north side of the Wailua River. If you’re driving eastbound, you will pass Opaekaa Falls overview on your left and then see the small pull-out and parking area for Poliahu Heiau on your right. This heiau features a large stone base upon which a wooden temple once stood. The outside wall that wraps around it is five feet tall and five feet wide, which is pretty impressive given that all the rocks would have had to be brought up the massive hill from the river below.
Seeing this ancient structure and imagining how ancient Hawaiians once lived is only part of the charm of visiting Poliahu Heiau. This stone temple was built on a cleared-out bluff directly above the Wailua River. This gorgeous location affords visitors unimpeded and commanding views of the river, Wailua Bay, and the many ridges and peaks of the lush and fertile Wailua River valley. As such, arriving to Wailua Beach this way, by driving east down Kuamoo Road and stopping at this bluff, is a fantastic way to enter the area and really get a birds-eye view and understanding of the area. And don’t forget to also stop and check out the Opaeka’s Falls that are located just up the street!
-If you’re up for a bit of an adventure when visiting the Poliahu Heiau, then you might go on a hunt for the Kauai bellstone. The so-called bellstone is a group of rocks that were gathered together and carved in such a way that when struck, a booming sound would echo across the valley. This unique mass communication device was used for things like announcing royal births and as a warning of impending danger, such as a mudslide or warring party. There are all types of bellstones across the Hawaiian islands, but this one was only recently uncovered and remains relatively undisturbed. You will find it about 100 feet north of the guardrails across from the Poliahu Heiau.
-There are a ton of free-roaming chickens here. These feathered friends are great for the cute picture, but they can be a bit noisy and noisome if you’re trying to chow down on a sandwich. In other words, while there are picnic facilities here, we suggest not lingering to eat at this location.