Pu’uhonua o Honaunau

The place of refuge
Big Island of Hawaii

The main function of this place for native Hawaiians in the past was as a refuge for kapu breakers – those who had broken the sacred Hawaiian laws, or kapu. Others sought refuge here as non-combatants during the frequent battles as the Hawaiians used to wage war among the various groups and islands. Wars in those days involved extermination of everyone in the opposing group, not just the warriors. Defeated warriors also came to this place, to wait out the war in safety, until the battles were over.

No matter who came here, or what their reasons, the pu’uhonua was a place of sanctuary, where all was forgiven. It was sacred ground that was respected by all, and on which life began anew in ancient Hawaii.

There are three parts to the site

  • The Royal Grounds – Home of the ruling chief, his courtyard adjoined the pu’uhonua, and consisted of ten or more thatched buildings that formed his palace. There were royal canoes, which were launched from the small beach reserved for the exclusive use of the chief and his attendants. The beach is clearly marked by a gruesome ki’i, or image, which told others in no uncertain terms to “keep off”!
  • The Hale o Keawe Heiau, or temple – This reconstructed temple originally served as a mausoleum, and housed the bones of 23 former chiefs. The mana, or spiritual power in the chief’s bones conferred additional protection to this place of refuge.
  • The Great Wall – The third site is not so much a “site” but certainly dominates the whole area – the Great Wall. This wall separated the palace grounds from the pu’uhonua. As with all of these walls to be found in Hawaii, this one is built of stones formed from lava. Each stone is carefully laid. No mortar is used…the stones were simply fitted together. This particular wall is the largest I saw while in Hawaii, and measures some 1,000 feet long, 10 feet high, and is over 17 feet wide! The wall was built around 1550, and looks to me as though it will easily stand for another 450 years. Outside the Great Wall is an Old Heiau Site, which has the famous Keoua Stone – supposedly sat upon by Keoua, high chief of Kona (as reported by Mark Twain in his book Letters From Hawaii).

This area is still actively used by Native Hawaiians. In 2001, I was witness to the fishing method called hukilau, where fish were driven into the shallows by beating the water (sometimes with ti leaves tied to ropes). In 2009 I observed a Hawaiian ritual being performed at the Hale o Keawe Heiau, or temple. A Hawaiian man was talking to the spirits of the chiefs. That same year, I sat down in front of a Hawaiian storyteller as he used old Hawaiian artifacts found in their homes in pre-colonial days.

There is a certain serenity to be found while you stroll among the coconut palms – walking on the sacred area of the Palace Grounds, and though the rest of the pu’uhonua. Try to figure out the rules for the Hawaiian version of checkers game, using the Konane stones to be found on the site.

This is my favourite location in the whole of Hawaii (not just on the Big Island itself). This place is capable of helping those of us who seek inner peace. This is a special place…one that is well worth visiting!

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau also has a picnic area. Instead of parking in the main parking lot, drive through to the end and veer left, taking the road through to the picnic area. There is lots of parking is available under the palms. I sat for hours under the shade of a palm tree on the white sand beach, looking out at the ocean with a warm trade breeze to keep me cool. Some Hawaiians arrived to fish in the surf, and other tourists have lunch, sun, or pothole in the lava along the ocean.

I hiked down the trail to Loa Point. I didn’t go the whole way to Ho’okena Beach – too hot for me. Along the way, I discovered what looks like a cattle corral – no doubt a remnant from the past. There is a dry cave at Loa Point, so take a flashlight if you want to explore. There is a stone ramp and trail at Loa Point, and a petrified log on the way.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau is run by the National Park Service.

  • A small entrance fee is charged.
  • Food and drink is not allowed, except in the designated picnic area.
  • Location: South Kona, The Big Island of Hawaii