Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, Big Island

The Big Island has no shortage of historical wonders, but few can match the significance, or the local charm, of the Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. Located on the island's west coast, the park consists of two sections – the royal grounds and the pu'uhonua (place of refuge).

The ali'i (royals) of Kona and their warriors lived in the royal grounds. The Hale o Keawe Heiau (ancient temple), was built in 1650 and holds the remains of 23 ali'i. A few thatched huts and a fishpond are located in this area as well. Located nearby is a long stone slab that might look pretty normal at first glance. This is the Keoua Stone, named after the high chief Keoua of Kona, who used it as a resting place. Leading up to the heiau is the Great Wall, which separates the royal grounds from the pu'uhonua, an ancient place of refuge for Hawaiians who broke the law.

In ancient Hawaii, the kapu (taboo) system was the law all people had to live by. A commoner was not allowed to look at the ali'i, touch them, or even walk in their footsteps. Women were not allowed to cook for men or eat together with them. There were many rules. If a commoner did something that was kapu, the penalty was death because it was believed that breaking a law made the gods angry, who could easily send a lava flow or tsunami to kill all. So to appease the gods, violators of the kapu system were killed.

However, there was one way to escape death and save your life. If you were able to get to a pu'uhonua, then you would be given an absolution ceremony and be spared. A pu'uhonua was a sanctuary, not only for kapu breakers, but also for defeated warriors. However, it was difficult to get to a pu'uhonua because the royals and warriors lived in the surrounding area.

So you either had to run faster than the angry warriors chasing you on land, or swim to it and beat rough ocean currents, waves, and hungry sharks on the way. But once inside the sanctuary, kahuna (priests) performed ceremonies to please the gods and kapu breakers were then able to be released into the community.

The park is also home to a large population of honu, the revered green sea turtles. Most of them take refuge in the Keone'ele, which was once the royal canoe landing and forbidden to commoners.

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park Overview

  • Park fronts Honaunau Bay and is located on 20 scenic acres of lava rock, surrounded on three sides by the ocean
  • Also known as Place of Refuge
  • This pu'uhonoa was the largest in all of Hawaii
  • Half-mile long, sandy walking trail (self-guided tour)
  • Cultural festival takes place each year on July 1, with traditional foods, hula, music, arts and crafts, and hukilau (fishing net) demonstrations
  • 20-minute informational talks are given at 10 am, 10:30 am, 11 am, 2:30 pm, 3 pm and 3:30 pm
  • Beach wheelchairs are provided for disabled visitors (free of charge)

Vacation Rentals near Pu'uhonua o Honaunau

Show Form

Reviews and Comments:
We arrived a bit late in the day and missed some of the live demonstrations but were still fascinated by the artifacts and the site. The lava extends out far enough to sea that you can see many tropical fish and never get your feet wet. Snorkelers will find the famous Two Step entrance to the bay and the great variety of fish to observe. Plan on spending lots of time here.
Tom Campbell, Tue May 14, 2019
Don't miss this place. It is well worth the time to walk these grounds and think about what you are seeing. There is a nice beach nearby too that you can use but it is separate from the park.
Steve Lohr, Tue Mar 15, 2016
Aloha, this will be a place you will never forget; walking through this area is unchanged since the days of the Ancients. It is a living historical place; you will feel like you have been taken back into a time long ago, where the rocks and stones are witnesses of those days, speaking of a way of life for a special people in the Pacific.Enjoy! Aloha!
wilikinia, Wed Jul 25, 2012