There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track. Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.
Keauhou Historic District
For nearly a thousand years sites around the Keauhou Historic District served as the political, cultural and religious centers for the people of the Hawaiian Islands. Many of the most important, best preserved and certainly the most interesting historical, pre-historical and cultural sites lie within the Keauhou Historic District, which stretches from Kahalu’u Beach Park south to Kuamo’o Bay. There are more than a dozen fascinating archeological features and sites that are easy to walk to, well maintained and quite interesting. More exhaustive information about the Keauhou Historic District than can be presented in this article may be found by visiting the Keauhou Kahalu’u Heritage Center at the Keauhou Shopping Center, open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information on other areas near by, a walking tour of the historic sites in downtown Kailua Kona is available here; a scenic drive through the historic sites of Kona Mauka is available here.
Starting on Ali’i Drive just north of Kahalu’u Beach, let’s work our way south through this incredibly rich region. The first set of sites are located on either side of Kahalu’u Beach County Park.
Ku’emanu Heiau: Located just south of mile marker 4.5 on Ali’i Drive stands perhaps the only ancient temple in the world dedicated solely to the sport of surfing. Ku’emanu was a luakini heiau (a temple where human sacrifice was practiced) and on the north side of the site is a laupa’u, or bone pit where the remains of the sacrificed were discarded. After surfing, Ali’i washed themselves of saltwater in a nearby brackish pool called Waiku’i (pounding waters); the pond has become brackish and stagnant in recent times. This is a particularly striking place to photograph the sun or moon set, through the legs of the upraised anu’u platform.
Parking can be tight during times of good surf, and Ali’i Drive can be hazardous to cross.
This temple is sacred to native Hawai’ians so remember to be especially respectful of this unique site. Do not disturb, nor take as souvenirs, offerings left upon the anu’u platform. Remember, here and all through the Keauhou Historic District: take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.
Saint Peter’s Church: Locally known as “The Little Blue Church”, St. Peter’s is the most photographed church in the State of Hawai’i. The history the St. Peter’s is long and fascinating and takes longer to tell than a tour of its Spartan interior and dozen pews. Originally built in 1880 on the site of La Aloa (Magic Sands) beach, the church was dismantled and hauled piece by piece to its current location at the Ku’emanu Heiau in 1912. In 1938, Father Benno of St. Michael’s added the belfry and the porch. Twice since it was situated on the site of Ku’emanu Heiau, St. Peters has been moved off its foundations by tsunami, but due to its small size and sturdy construction, has survived long in a harsh environment.
Helani Church and ‘Ohi’a-Mukumuku Heiau: Those vine covered ruins across the street from St. Peter’s are the remains of Helani Church, built by the Rev. John D. Paris in 1861 of basalt block and lime mortar. When the local population moved inland about the turn of the century, a new Helani Church was established mauka (uphill) near the Old Mamalohoa Highway (see a driving tour of Kona Mauka, which includes the rebuilt Helani Church, here).
The church, however, was erected on a the grounds of the ‘Ohi’a-Mukumuku Heiau; a powerful and holy religious temple around which swirls some of the darkest folklore and ghost stories told around the Hawai’ian Islands. When you hear ghost stories about a white dog and a black dog, they are about the happenings on the grounds of the ‘Ohi’a-Mukumuku Heiau and Ke’eku Heiau, during the time when the Ali’i of Hawai’i, Lonoikamakakahiki, was battling for supremacy with the Ali’i of the Maui, Kamalalawalu, in the 16th century.
Beneath the ruins of Helani Church lie the ruins of ‘Ohi’a-Mukumuku Heiau, a place of dark legend and lore. Held in Hawai’ian folktales to have been built by the gods, ‘Ohi’a-Mukumuku Heiau was re-dedicated to the war god, Kuka’ilimoku, by the Hawai’i Ali’i Lonoikamakakahiki, so that he might vanquish his Maui foe. It is said of these battles that when the Maui attacked the Hawai’i, the numbers of warriors was so vast that just as the first of the Maui war canoes were landing on Hawai’i, the last of their canoes were still leaving Maui.
Lonoikamakakahiki had a particular disagreement with Kamalalawalu. When the invading Maui captured his leading general, he had his eyes gouged out and spears run through the eye sockets; Lonoikamakakahiki vowed a bloody revenge. See the section on Ke’eku Heiau, below, for details.
Archeological Sites at Kahalu’u Beach County Park: The Hawai’ian word Kahalu’u can be translated as “the place where people go into the water”; in ancient as well as modern times, Kahalu’u was a place of recreation, relaxation and restoration, thus, there are numerous sites of historic importance in the park. Between St. Peters Church and the northern restroom is the Awa pae Wai O Keawaiki canoe landing which figured prominently in the Maui-Hawaii wars of the 16th Century. The large pond between the northern restrooms and the small pavilion, Wai Kua’a’la loko, was the private bathing pond of Hawai’ian Ali’i in residence at Kahalu’u. Between the two pavilions is another ancient canoe landing and even into historic times, a halau wa’a, or canoe storage house, was situated here. An important heiau and royal residence, Mokuahi’ole, stood where the large pavilion is today. It was at this site that the great queen, Ka’ahumanu, and her cousin Kuakini (later Territorial Governor) were raised. More information about Kahalu’u Beach County Park is available here.
Paokamenehune (Menehune Seawall): The breakwater is a combination of natural features and man-made wall. It predates the 15th century temple complexes in the area and is widely said to have been built by the menehune (sort of the Hawai’ian equivalent to leprechauns), but building was actually initiated to enclose the bay as a fishpond. Whether the work became beyond the powers of the Ali’i at the time to administrate or the surfing faction won-out in the battle over use of Kahalu’u Bay is not known, but the breakwater was already in disarray at the time of European contact in the 18th century.
To reach Paokamenehune Seawall, from Kahalu’u Beach or the Keauhou Beach Resort walk across the tide flat to the water’s edge and follow it out to the obvious line of large stones that comprise the seawall. Beware of the rock with is very, very slippery when wet and bear in mind that walking along the remains of the seawall is extremely dangerous.
To reach the next set of archeological sites, it is necessary to park in the free parking lot at the Keauhou Beach Resort. From the Resort parking lot, walk up the drive and cross through the lobby and across the pool deck. Follow the paths through the garden between the pool and the outdoor restaurant. Remember these sites are sacred to native Hawaiians.
Po’o Hawai’i Pond (King’s Pond) and the King Kalakaua Homesite: The original Hale Kahakai O Kalakaua, or seashore home of King Kalakaua, was built here in the 1880s; King Kalakaua built his own house and an exact replica for his friend, the Court Jester. Both were destroyed in 1950; this replica was erected in 1980, about a century after the original had been built. Be sure to see the informational sign for an amusing typographical error. The restored home is open for tours; inquire with the Concierge at the Resort.
Reserved for Ali’i and Kahuna, the sacred fishpond here was said to be bad luck for any commoner to take fish from. Near the pond are k’i’i pohaku (petroglyphs).
Kapuanoni Heiau and Canoe Landing and the Ku’ula Stones: Located on a small point of land between just makai of the Keauhou Beach Hotel’s pool, is the Kapuanoni Heiau, built by the Ali’i Kalanio’pu’u. This walled enclosure was dedicated to ensuring the abundance of fish. Just north of the Heiau is a canoe landing and the sacred bathing pool, Poho’okapo.
Between the canoe landing and the Po’o Hawai’i Pond (King’s Pond) are two ku’ula stones. Any stone god, carved or natural, large or small, used to attract fish is referred to as pohaku ku’ula. These two ku’ula are named Kanaio and Ulupalakua and were brought by voyaging canoe from Maui in 1751. Look at the larger stone, the one nearer the plaque, to sea the images of a turtle, a fishhook and shark represented on it, using a combination of the natural lines of the stone and engraving. The round hole near the top indicates that this was also a “luakini” stone, or stone for human sacrifice. A loop of rope was passed through the hole, around the victim’s neck, and tightened until strangulation was complete. It is not known if human sacrifice at this stone was used as punishment, to propitiate the gods for good fishing, to dispatch enemy combatants for ritual cannibalism, or some combination of these.
To reach the next set of sites, park at the Keauhou Ohana Beach Resort and walk up the drive to the paved path that runs along the south end of the driveway. Following along this path, one passes Punawai Spring first, then, after the path runs around the end of the tennis courts, the Mo’o Twins homesite. Directly toward the sea from the tennis court is the reconstructed Hapaial’i Heiau. As of this writing, Ke’eku Heiau –to the south–is still under reconstruction; the best way to get there right now is to cross the bottom of the small tidal pool at the Mo’o Twins Homesite and then follow the path to the heiau and beautiful Makaole’a Black Sand Beach. Remember that these are holy, religious sites to modern native Hawai’ians; to not trespass, walk or climb on the temples proper; take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.
Mo’o Twins Homesite, Fertility Pit and Punawai Springs: On opposite sides of the Keauhou Beach Hotel Tennis Courts lie the homesite of the legendary Mo’o Twins and Punawai Spring. The fertility pit at Punawai Spring is an example of the rare, freshwater springs in this area which were the only source of drinking water and were the only reasons villages could survive in Kona. In modern times, the Hotel has promoted wedding ceremonies in the glade around Punawai springs, a Western reflection of the ancient practice of Hawai’ian girls bathing in them to insure fertile child-bearing years.
Legend tells us that the Mo’o Twins were prophetesses of the lizard goddess who, through time, became goddesses in their own right. Famed for their singing, their healing art s and their teaching, the Mo’o twins lived along the tidepool between what, in later years, would become Hapaiali’i and Ke’eku Heiau. Today, this is a stunning place to take sunset photos and see Honu, the endangered Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle who inhabit the Mo’o Twins tidepool.
Hapaiali’i Heiau: The recently restored Hapaiali’i Heiau (Temple for Elevating Chiefs), a heiau associated with ceremonies involving changes in rank of Ali’i, lies on the grounds of the Keauhou Ohana Beach Resort, across the narrow tidal inlet from Ke’eku Heiau. Until recently, the temple appeared to be noting more than a disorganized pile of rocks in a tangle of mangrove and keawe. Not much is known about this Heiau and oral traditions in the area are contradictory. Some local stories hold that it predates Ke’eku Heiau; other family traditions maintain it was built around 1812 by Kamehameha the Great. During restoration, carbon dating of material recovered indicated that the Heiau may have been erected, or substantially rebuilt, between 1411 and 1465. According to cultural kahuna overseeing the reconstruction it took thousands of commoners about 10 years to build the original temple.
The temple was reconstructed by using survey maps made of the area in 1906 and 1952 and currently measures 100 feet by 150 feet. Completely surrounded by the sea at high tide and constructed entirely by dry-stack masonry, this reconstruction reminds us of the staggering engineering sophistication of the Hawai’ians and the grandeur and beauty of the temples they erected.
During the restoration project, funded by Kamehameha Schools, it was discovered that Hapaiali’i Heiau also served as a solar calendar. On the winter solstice, from a vantage point directly behind the temple’s center stone, the sun sets directly off the southwest corner of the heiau; at the vernal equinox, the sun sets directly along the centerline of the temple and at summer solstice, it sets off the northwest corner. If you are visiting Hawaii during any of these seasons it is worth the trip to Hapaiali’i Heiau to see how well this ancient astronomical observatory still serves its function
Ke’eku Heiau and Keauhou Petroglyph Field: Just south of the Keauhou Beach Hotel grounds are the reconstructed remains of a heiau that served as both a luakini heiau (place of human sacrifice) and pu’uhonua (place of refuge). Built by the Hawai’ian Ali’i Lonoikamakakahiki in the 16th century, Ke’eku Heiau is one of the most famous religious sites in the State of Hawai’i because of its veneration in folk tales involving the 16th century wars between the Hawai’i and the Maui. The Heiau has walls an impressive 6 to 11 feet thick, and measures 150 by 100 feet in area.
When Lonoikamakakahiki vanquished the Maui, he took their king, Kamalalawalu to Ke’eku Heiau and sacrificed him alive to celebrate his great victory. The method of sacrifice was slow and graphic. Kamalalawalu was staked to the ground for several days, then taken to a nearby flat rock and butchered. The body was then towed to sea behind a canoe and fed to the sharks (some versions of the folktale have Kamalalawalu impaled on a pole for several days before being butchered on the flat rock).
Hawai’ian folktales hold that Kamalalawalu brought with him into battle two large, fierce war dogs, a white one (Kapapako) and a black one (Kauakahiok’oka). The dogs are said to have lain down and died on the spot of Kamalalawalu’s execution. Although buried beneath the heiau luakini platform, it is said that these dogs can still be seen roaming, and heard howling, in the night searching the underworld for their fallen master. Two stone features found on the makai side of Ke’eku Heiau stone platform represent the two dogs.
Carved into the rock in the inter-tidal region in front of this heiau is an impressive set of k’i’i pohaku (petroglyphs). Due to geological subsidence of the island over the past several hundred years, these petroglyphs are visible only at low tide, or by mask and snorkel. There is one large anthropomorphic petroglyph in particular that is said to represent the sacrificed Maui Ali’i, Kamalalawalu as well as others which commemorate victory over the Maui by Lonoikamakakahiki. Here at the Keauhou Petroglyph Field one finds an exceedingly rare petroglyph depiction of a European-style sailing vessel. More information about Hawaii’s beautiful and enigmatic petroglyphs is available here.
Lonoikamakakahiki Residence, Paniau Heiau and Kapuakini Heiau: This is a good example of the embarrassment of riches in West Hawai’i in terms of our archaeological heritage, and the disrespectful and wasteful way which we deal with these important resources.
Here at Lonoikamakakahiki Residence is a king’s palace, 500 years old, and built by one of Hawai’i’s greatest kings, King Umi. This site was later inhabited by at least two other important kings (Lonoikamakakahiki and Kalanio’pu’u) as well as Kamehameha the Great. In any other state this would be an archaeological treasure, a park or preserve, but certainly showcased and cared for. In this case, in Hawai’i, a very few remnant walls were grudgingly reprieved from the bulldozer’s blade when the Kona Surf and Racquet Club was built by the Bishop Estate (Kamehameha Schools). The rest of this rare historical treasure was bulldozed into oblivion for all time. It is not even generally available for causal viewing, locked away behind the Kona Surf and Racquet Club’s iron gates where only paying Club guests and pedestrian visitors can see it. Of course, there is no available (legal) parking nearby.
Umi, who built this palace and temple complex, was the grandson of Pili, a reforming Ali’i and Kahuna who came from Tahiti in the 13th century and who is associated with another reformer Ali’i, Pa’ao. Together, by bringing young Tahitian princes to refresh the divine mana in the royal Hawai’ian bloodline, these two re-invigorated the stagnant Hawai’ian religion by introducing the kapu system of laws as well as human sacrifice; it is within this religious context that these temples were built.
The history of the temple and palace precincts of Lonoikamakakahiki Residence are deeply intertwined with some of the greatest events in the history of the Island and of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, as well as the focal point for the political forces through which the Hawai’ian Kingdom was ultimately forged.
During the 16th Century, when Hawai’i was threatened by the attack of the Maui under Kamalalawalu, Chief Lonoikamakakahiki was in residence here. It was near this spot, at Ke’eku Heiau, Lonoikamakakahiki sacrificed the vanquished Maui, Kamalalawalu, to the war god Kuka’ilimoku. The victory over the Maui cemented Lonoikamakakahiki’s rule over the entirety of Hawai’i Island. The bold attack of the Maui forever changed the way island dwellers looked at warfare. From that point on, major warfare became more directed towards conquest of other islands and the internecine battles within island populations which had served as the major form of warfare to that time were reduced in importance and frequency, serving only to solidify ascendancy to kingship.
Historic events again overtook this location late in the 18th Century during the skirmishes in which Captain Cook was killed at Kealakekua. Native Hawai’ians, covetous of iron from nails, stole a row boat from the British explorers. Captain Cook, attempting to secure the boat’s return, for a time took hostage the venerated Ali’i and Kahuna, Kalanio’pu’u, who was then Chief of all the Island of Hawai’i. After Cook was killed in the resultant melee, Kalanio’pu’u fled here to hide from British sailors bent on vengeance. Kalanio’pu’u survived the days of battle and revenge and became a figurehead elder statesman, helping to shape his fellow Hawai’ians’ attitudes towards the newcomers, their incredible wealth and their new religion. Kalanio’pu’u, it is said, was overly fond of hula and he imported hula halau from all over Polynesia to entertain himself and his royal court. The hula grounds where thousands of hula performances were held lie under the tennis courts today. Here, in his dotage and advancing kava-fueled dementia, Kalanio’pu’u passed his latter years and divided his lands between his son, Kiwalao and his nephew, Kamehameha. Ultimately, at his death in 1782, Kalanio’pu’u passed his political power on to Kiwalao and his control of the warriors, along with the war god, Kuka’ilimoku, he passed to Kamehameha, setting the stage for four years of battle for supremacy between the two. In the end, Kamehameha emerged the victorious Ali’i, ruling all of Hawai’i Island and eventually, the entire Hawai’ian chain of islands as the Hawaiian Kingdom.
After years of warfare consolidating his island empire and years of statesmanship shepherding his people into the new era of congress with the European world, a weary and elderly Kamehameha the Great moved his Royal court from O’ahu to Kailua in the second decade of the 19th Century. He passed a year here at Lonoikamakakahiki Residence while his palace and temples at Ahu’ena Heiau were re-built and re-dedicated. The royal residence has been uninhabited since Kamehameha moved to Ahu’ena Heiau.
For paying guests of the Surf and Racquet Club, there are restrooms, drinking water, parking, tennis courts and a pool in addition to the condominia. Anybody else wishing to view these important and impressive archeological ruins must park at the Keauhou Beach Ohana Resort or Kahalu’u County Beach Park and walk more than half a mile south along Ali’i drive to the “Public Shoreline Access” at the Surf and Racquet Club.
Ohi’a Lava Tube Caves and Kona Coast Scenic Overlook: This scenic pullout, overlooking the Kona Coastline from Keauhou Bay north past Kailua Bay to Keahole Point, is one of the best places to watch sunset in all of Kona. It’s also a grand spot for spotting whale spouts, watching canoe races and just generally taking in the Kona ambiance.
Directly below the scenic overlook are the numerous entrances, skylights and pits associated with the Ohi’a Lava Tube cave complex. Before European contact, these caves were a hub of activity and socialization for the native Hawai’ians. Used at various times as general living quarters, shade during the blazing summers and cover from infrequent storms, springs deep with in the caves also augmented scarce supplies of fresh water for Kona residents. The caves also served as places for sacred ritual and burial of important Ali’i.
Today, exploration of the caves is unsafe and unsavory due to an element of homeless people and criminal activity here. Additionally, most of the accessible entrances are gated or sealed; visitors are asked to refrain from entering the caves to preserve the sanctity of native burials.
King Kamehameha III Birthplace: A lovely natural harbor backed by volley ball courts, canoe halau and lawn, Keauhou Bay Park at the pier on Keauhou harbor is a lovely place to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation, eat a picnic lunch, or dive into the invitingly cool waters at the end of a hot day.
Along the cliffs fronting the bay is a nature trail planted with native Hawai’ian healing plants with explanatory signs which runs to the birthplace of Kalani Kauikeaouli, who later became King Kamehameha III when his older brother Liholiho (Kamehameha II) died of measles in England. Legend has it that Kalani was still born, but the kahuna attending the royal birth immediately immersed him in the cold waters of a nearby spring, where he was at once revived. There are not many places in America where one can easily walk to the exact birthplace of a King, and this pleasant spot is onesuch, not to be missed.
To reach Keauhou Bay, follow Kaleiopapa St. from either of its intersections with Ali’i Drive between the 5 and 6 mile markers. Full facilities include showers, restrooms, drinking water, picnic tables, volleyball courts and a boat ramp.
Keauhou Holua National Historic Landmark (Ka Holua O Kaneaka: In ancient times, the Ali’i competed with each other in the sport of Holua, or sledding. A long, steep, trackway paved with stones would be constructed down-slope and then covered with tamped dirt and topped with dried grass. The Ali’i would race down these tracks on wooden sleds, or “holua” as competition. These races were very dangerous and only the Ali’i were allowed to compete. This particular holua is unique because, not only is it the largest and longest and best preserved in Hawai’i, but also because when constructed it went all the way into the sea at Keauhou Bay.
Despite this important archeological site being a National Historic Landmark, much of it was bulldozed by developers building resorts and a golf course.
The nearby village of Holualoa is named after this sledway; “holua” meaning “sled” and “loa” meaning “long”.
The Historic Landmark is best viewed from Ali’i Drive, just past the 6-mile marker and directly across from the Kona Country Club parking lot. Time allowing, one can park here and walk the golf-cart tracks up alongside the sled run and observe it from the top.
Kuamo’o Battle Field and Lekeleke Graveyard: Melancholy, lonely, desolate; this bench cut into the fresh scar of an a’a flow marks the place where the Hawai’ian gods died at the battle of Kuamo’o. In 1819, the year before the Christian missionaries arrived in Hawai’i, forces loyal to Kamehameha II and Queen Ka’ahumanu fought to overturn the kapu system and the pagan Hawai’ian religion in favor of Christianity. Kahuna Kekuaokalani led the last supporters of the old ways and the old gods and fought a desperate battle here to preserve their ancient way of life, and lost. Their graves, numbering in the several hundreds despite the official-looking marker at the site, are under the numerous, large stone altars erected by the victors over the very spots the warriors fell.
A walk along the dirt road that bisects the battlefield is ineffably sad and a little creepy. However, the road soon climbs into dryland forest along the lava ocean cliffs and provides some memorable hiking and sunset views.
Kuamo’o Battlefield is located at the very end of Ali’i Drive, somewhat appropriately. No facilities.
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