Pu'uhonua O Honaunau Big Island

Its name means place of refuge. Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is located on the west coast of the Big Island, approximately ten miles south of Kealakekua and about 20 miles north of the turnoff for Volcanoes National Park. Puuhonua Park is part of the black lava Kona Coast, and this Big Island national historical park was once a place of refuge for offenders of ancient Hawaiian sacred laws, called kapu. The penalty for breaking these laws was almost always death. The only possibility of escaping the penalty was to flee to the nearest puuhonua, and a major one was located here next to the sacred home of the Hawaiian alii, meaning kings or chiefs. Similar to the Western tradition that a church or place of worship can be used as a sanctuary, lawbreakers would arrive to undergo a ceremony of absolution, and then they were immune from capture and further prosecution. The refuge is separated from the royal residence and grounds by a huge wall that is ten feet high and seventeen feet wide.

Puuhonua ParkSet on beautiful Honauna Bay, a prime snorkeling spot and refuge for the endangered honu (Hawaiian green sea turtle), Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is a beautifully restored sacred site that is of great importance in the history of Native Hawaiian culture. The huge sea turtles are often seen swimming among the coral gardens of the bay and are easily mistaken for rocks when they bask on the rocky shores. If snorkeling, pay attention to the signage to ensure you stay clear of the nesting sites, and do not enter the water from Keoneele Cove. This is also an excellent whale watching spot from November to April.

Big Island National Historical Park contains a number of interesting sites and features a half-mile trail that can be used for hiking and self-guided tours. The trail winds its way through the Royal Grounds, residence of the Hawaiian kings; the Keeoneele, royal canoe landing and current sea turtle refuge; and the Hale o Keawe, a temple and the cemetery containing remains of 23 alii. It also goes past the Puuhonua, the refuge for lawbreakers; the Keoua Stone, a large rough-hewn slab of rock that was the favorite bench for Chief Keoua; and the Heiau, the stone ruins of an ancient temple that are guarded by huge carved wooden kii, images of gods. During your tours, you will also find a grouping of thatched huts and pass the royal fishponds. Like the Alekoko Fishponds on the island of Kauai, the fishponds of Puuhonua Park provided a permanent source of food for the kings. Royalty would arrive and select certain fish that would appear on their dining table that evening.

Puuhonua ParkPuuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park allows recreational fishing in most areas of the park. Familiarize yourself with the state fishing regulations, and be aware that bows and arrows, as well as spear guns, are not allowed. Once you have soaked in the self-guided walking tours of the historical sites, those who want a little more exercise will find hiking available in the Puuhonua Park backcountry—the trail winds along the dramatic Keanaee cliffs. This trail is ancient and existed long before Europeans arrived. It connected the different coastal Kona villages and beaches, and it was widened in the 1800s to allow passage of horse-drawn carriages. Special events and cultural demonstrations are held throughout the year, so check the park calendar to see when to go to view these. There is lauhala, which is traditional basket weaving, lei making, and Hawaiian games and traditional dance demonstrations.

The Big Island National Historical Park is close to some other attractions on the Kona Coast. The Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site is the site of an ancient temple of war and is about 50 miles away. The Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park contains the Kaloko Fishpond, a superb example of traditional Hawaiian aquaculture, and is located about 25 miles away. The famous Volcanoes National Park is about 75 miles away. There is no camping or lodging in the park, but you will find bed and breakfasts nearby, and the Kona hotels are easily accessible.

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