If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that we’re still “sheltering in place” on the Big Island of Hawaii – monitoring the current situation until it’s safe and possible to head back to the UK.
Some of our travel plans had to be cancelled, but we were lucky enough to be able to visit the National Historical Parks of the Big Island before they closed.
While the Big Island is perhaps best known for Volcanoes National Park, there are other important sites to visit, with some beautiful beaches and hiking included! Read on to discover more..
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau (Place of Refuge)
When we first arrived on the Big Island, we were staying in the Keauhou area. On our way to the Hilo side of the island, we decided stop at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau (also known as the Place of Refuge, which is a lot easier to pronounce!).
The Place of Refuge is so called because in ancient Hawaiian culture, a site could be declared a refuge for people who had broken the law (Kapu), or to families during times of war. Within the walls of the Pu’uhonua, you would effectively be in a neutral, non-judgemental zone, where you could seek forgiveness or safety. It is estimated this site is around 450 years old.
The NPS website details the site Here. It is actually known as a National Historical Park, because of it’s cultural and historical significance.
Note: as the site is part of the NPS, you can get cancellations here if you have a National Parks Passport! (I forgot mine, but purchased sticker inserts at the gift shop)
At the gift shop & visitors’ centre, you can pick up a map of the site, to help you navigate around the various historical areas. The Great Wall, constructed over 400 years ago, divides the areas between the Royal Grounds and the Pu’uhonua (Place of Refuge).
The Place of Refuge looks onto Honaunau Bay, where there were a lot of people snorkeling in the clear waters. The beach was very busy, so we didn’t walk round there, but we were able to see a group of dolphins coming in right next to the snorkelers!
There are some interesting things to see, including the Royal Fishponds, where ancient Hawaiians would trap and feed fish from the ocean, ready to be prepared for a meal for the Ali’i (Chief, or ruler). Much like my husband has to do for me 🙂
The mausoleum houses the bones of 23 ali’i, and is guarded by wooden icons of gods.
As the whole area remains a sacred place, it is important to stay on the paths, and not climb around the rocks. It is still to this day a place of refuge to Hawaiians.
The Ala Kahakai (1871 Trail)
Distance: 2.25 mile roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy – but wear trainers or hiking boots – as with most hikes on the Big Island, you will be scrambling over rough lava rocks!
This is a really nice trail to do from the Visitor Centre, winding upwards past historical sites, along the coastline, with stunning views of Alahaka Bay & Ki’ilae Bay. There is a fairly steep section up the Alahaka Pali Ramp, which connects the trail to Ki’ilae Village. It finishes at a gate near the boundary of the Historical Park, and you re-trace your route back.
There is a small coastal trail you can take to the left on your way back to finish the loop a slightly different way.
Views from along the trail.. there is a lovely stopping point at a bench under a tree about half way
Situated off Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway, just past mile marker 97, this is another National Historical Park, with important cultural significance. I read that this park is not very well known to visitors, or even locals, who simply associate the area with the large Costco across the road!
This is a shame in one sense, because it is an interesting area with access to a beautiful beach, but also good because fewer people will be disturbing the natural environment!
There’s a visitors centre (currently being rebuilt) with detailed maps of the area and hikes. Outside, there are written information boards telling how ancient Hawaiians would have divided the land, produced crops, and formed their society. There are various hiking trails winding through the lava fields past ancient fishponds and traps.
We did the short Ala Mauka Makai Trail (0.7 miles) to Honokohau Beach, which is a calm and peaceful rough sand beach, with black lava rocks extending out through the shallows. The turtles (Honu) are numerous here, and I almost stepped on one resting on the beach! Others were clearly visible swimming in the shallow water.
You might not be able to tell, but that’s a turtle in one of the pictures!
There are reconstructed Hawaiian huts on the beach, which is accessed by a rough black lava path – trainers or hiking boots recommended!
We will be returning to do the longer Ala Kahakai Historical trail – watch this space!
I recommend finding time to visit both of these historical sites if you’re on the Big Island. As well as some nice hiking and beaches, they are also useful for teaching visitors and locals about the history of the islands.
Unfortunately at the time of writing, all National Historical Sites remain closed due to the Global Coronavirus “lockdown”. Hopefully this post has given you some inspiration for things to do on the Big Island once it re-opens!
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Stay safe and Mahalo!