Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

A sacred site for ancient Hawaiians, the "Place of Refuge" is still special

Meaning “Place of Refuge of Honaunau” this puuhonua is where ancient Hawaiians fled for safety or to seek absolution after breaking kapu (laws). Located in South Kona, Honaunau was the original seat of the Kona chiefdom and the ancestral home of the Kamehameha dynasty.  A sign on Highway 11 points out the park’s turnoff.

Under a canopy of palms trees, this quiet, seaside site evokes a sense of peace and forgiveness. No commercial filming or modern-day beach toys, coolers, etc. are permitted. Sitting atop the lava flats of the Kona Coast, the 180-acre park is considered a sacred place with landmarks chronicling over 400 years of Hawaiian history. 

Visitors can walk through the grounds and see stately kii (carved wooden images) surrounding Hale o Keawe, where the bones of 23 Hawaiian chiefs are interred.

Another attraction is the massive Great Wall, measuring nearly 1,000 feet long, 10 feet high and 17 feet wide. The stonewall borders the Royal Grounds, which were once favored by ancient chiefs for its brackish springs.

A self-guided brochure details all the park’s offerings and is available at the visitor center, along with daily orientation talks at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. 

“The talks are a great way to hear about the park and ask questions,” says 30-year park ranger Charles “Kale” Hua. 

Interactive fun includes coconut frond weaving 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesdays and demonstrations of ancient Hawaiian life skills on the weekends. The visitor center provides a hiking guide for the 1871 Trail to Kiilae Village, which Ranger Hua says is a two-mile, round trip walk along the ocean to see remnants of home and agricultural sites. The trail connected ancient coastal villages along the South Kona Coast. 

The park’s annual cultural festival is usually the last weekend in June. The visitor center is open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily.