Written and produced by Donnie MacGowan; narrated by Frank Burgess. Videography by Donnie MacGowan and Frank Burgess.
Along the side of the centuries-old Ka’u-Puna trail, worn smooth by generations of travelers, in the area of the Hill of Long Life (Pu’u Loa) lies the largest petroglyph field in Polynesia It is estimated that the Pu’u Loa field contains in excess of 15,000 carvings. A one mile segment of this ancient trail, from the parking lot along the Chain of Craters Road to the petroglyphs, has been marked with cairns (or “ahu”) by the Park staff to lead visitors to the petroglyphs. As you hike along this trail, notice the smoothness of the lava, the sheen on the trail worn by generations of travelers’ feet.
There are many theories concerning the origin and meanings of these carvings but one thing is certain. People stopped here for hundreds of years and left their mark on the stone. Among the designs are simple holes, spirals, concentric circles, human forms and others which are unrecognizable geometric shapes. The hills and swales of pahoehoe surrounding the boardwalk contain thousands more petroglyphs, but due to their fragility, you are advised to remain on the boardwalk to keep from damaging them.
Pu’u Loa, the hill at the margin of the boardwalk, is the place where Hawai’ians came to bury the umbilical chord of their children. People came from all over the Hawai’ian Islands to bury their child’s piko, or umbilical chord stump, in this place of “mana” (Hawai’ian for power), the home of the Goddess Pele. Grinding out a cup-shaped hole, the Hawai’ians would place the piko in the ground to insure long life, and good grace from the Goddess, for their child.
Remember that these carvings, though many hundreds of years old, are extremely fragile so remain on the boardwalk—do not step into the petroglyph field, even for a better view, or onto the carvings themselves. The boardwalk passes by hundreds of carvings near enough for you to examine them minutely and photograph the completely. This self-guided tour takes about 1 hour.