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.
Set 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 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.