Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park: The Complete Guide

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park from the coast

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Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Address
State Hwy 160, Hōnaunau, HI 96726, USA
Phone +1 808-328-2326

On the rugged southern Kona coast of Hawai‘i’s Big Island, a 400-acre stretch of land protects a living piece of Hawaiian history. Once home to aliʻi (ancient Hawaiian royalty), Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park also served as a place of refuge for Hawaiian lawbreakers and defeated warriors.

Today, the former refuge stretches across three separate ahupuaʻa (traditional Hawaiian land divisions). It's almost impossible not to feel a sense of calm while crossing its threshold, as Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau holds a peaceful spirit of forgiveness that completely embodies the Hawaiian sense of Aloha.

As you explore the park, you'll find preserved a series of restored ceremonial structures, carved wooden ki‘i, fish ponds, and sacred temples. It’s a glimpse into Hawaiian antiquity that few tourists take the time to experience, even though it represents one of the most culturally significant and well-preserved fragments of local history.

Things to Do

According to Hawaiian tradition, a puʻuhonua site—like the one safeguarded at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park—was a “place of refuge” for those who had broken laws (kapu). Any law, from the smallest of infractions to that of fighting on the opposite side of a battle, could be forgiven upon crossing the threshold of the puʻuhonua.

Visitors can explore these important cultural sites via a self-guided walking tour that passes through the park’s most significant terrain. Grab an informational brochure at the visitor center and walk through the ancient royal grounds bordering the protective puʻuhonua, made up of crushed lava rock and sand. See royal ponds once used to hold fish for the aliʻi; the stone Kōnane Papamū, which functioned as a playing surface for a game of kōnane (Hawaiian checkers); and take in views of the protected Keoneʻele Cove, a former canoe landing for the Hawaiian royal members (now, however, the site mainly sees local sea turtles sunbathing at its edge). Most of the site is encased by the “Great Wall,” a 400-year-old wall constructed using dry set masonry with no mortar between rocks—a method known as "uhau humu pohaku."

Inside the puʻuhonua itself, see the restored ancient heiau, Hale o Keawe, a Hawaiian temple that acted as a royal mausoleum. Originally constructed between 1600 and 1700, it is said to be the oldest site in the area. It was believed to house the bones of 23 different chiefs, a feature that helped give the place additional mana, or spiritual power and strength. Hale o Keawe is also surrounded by 12 wood-carved images, called ki‘i, that represent Lono, the Hawaiian god of harvest, life, and rebirth. While the ki‘i you see today are not the original statues, they were carved using the same local skills and traditions.

The heiau site is near Keōua Stone, a favorite resting spot of high chief Keōua. If you walk further onto the sharp lava rock, the tide pools full of tiny marine life (such as sea urchins and brightly colored fish) become visible. Upon arrival, check with park rangers at the visitor center to see if any cultural demonstrations are scheduled for the day.

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park on Big Island, Hawaii

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Best Hikes & Trails

Most visitors to Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau choose to explore the park via the half-mile trail from the visitor center. For those looking to break more of a sweat, the 2.5-mile 1871 Trail to the Ki‘ilae Village offers stunning views of coastal Keanaeʻe cliffs and the park’s most historic sites. The hike makes up a small section of the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, a 175-mile path that goes from the northernmost tip of the island to the eastern border of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. The trailhead for the 1871 Trail starts at the stairs to the left of the visitor center.

Where to Stay Nearby

There are no lodging options inside the park, and camping is not permitted. The closest public campsites to Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau are about 30 miles north at Kohanaiki Beach Park in Kailua-Kona and about 24 miles south at Miloli`i Beach Park in Captain Cook. Of course, the Big Island’s other major towns have plenty of options, from budget hotels to luxury resorts.

  • Dragonfly Ranch: Just over 2 miles from Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, the Dragonfly Ranch is set on a two-acre property on the west side of Hawaiʻi Island. This unique spot boasts infrared saunas, yoga spaces, and a complimentary breakfast packed with fresh organic fruit grown on-property.
  • Hale Hoola B&B: Known for its amazing hosts and delicious breakfast, the Hale Hoola B&B is located less than 5 miles from the national historical park. With its tranquil, sweeping rainforest views and lush surroundings, this is the place to be if you want to get close to nature on the Big Island.
  • Pineapple Park Hostel: For budget-friendly accommodation just 10 miles north of Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau, Pineapple Park Hostel is an affordable and friendly spot to stay in Captain Cook. The location is a bit off-the-beaten path, but the hostel makes up for it with amenities like a shared kitchen, reasonable prices, and close proximity to some of the island’s best snorkel spots.
  • King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel: This beachfront resort is a bit further north from the historical park, but it has the added perks of upgraded rooms, several on-site restaurants, a bar, and a coffee shop.

How to Get There

Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is about a two-hour drive from Hilo and a 45-minute drive from Kailua-Kona, depending on traffic. When coming from Kailua-Kona, take Highway 11 south for about 20 miles until you reach the Hōnaunau Post Office, between mileposts 103 and 104. Turn right towards the ocean onto Highway 160 and drive 3.5 miles until you see the Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park sign on the left.

From Hilo, take Saddle Road west until it turns into Daniel K. Inouye Hwy. Turn left onto Hawaiʻi Belt Road, then drive 24 miles before taking a left on Henry St. After just under a half-mile, you'll bear left back onto Hawai'i Belt Road, then continue on before turning right on Keala O Keawe Rd. Take a left turn on Honaunau Beach Road and continue straight until the signs for Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park appear.

Accessibility

The park's visitor center is fully accessible, with accessible parking spaces and nearby accessible restrooms. Inside, there are transcripts available for audio stories in the exhibit. The park is in the process of updating facilities by constructing an ADA ramp for access to the royal grounds. Additionally, there’s a picnic area south of the visitor center parking lot that features accessible picnic tables; it can be reached via a short, unpaved road. The park’s brochure is available in braille, large print, and text only, while the self-guided walking tour of the park includes a cell phone audio tour and a text-based guide. As with most national parks, service dogs are allowed.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Admission costs $10 per person for individuals entering by foot or bicycle. Those traveling by car can pay a flat rate of $20; the ticket includes parking and admissions for up to eight people.
  • Consider purchasing the Hawaiʻi Tri-Park Pass if you’re planning to also visit Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and Haleakalā National Park on Maui. It costs $55 and is valid for one year.
  • Stop at Hōnaunau Bay Boat Ramp (also known as "Two Step”) next to the park for a bit of snorkeling before or after your visit. Be aware that visitors are not allowed to enter the water at Keone'ele Cove within the park itself.
  • Remember to refrain from touching, moving, or climbing on the park’s many sacred sites and structures while you’re there.
  • There is no food available for purchase inside the park, so plan ahead. The closest options are along Highway 11, on your way to and from the park. Or, pack a lunch and enjoy the beautiful picnic area near the park's shore. There are public charcoal grills that you can use without a reservation.
  • The midday sun at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau can get extremely hot, and there isn’t much shade. Bring ample sun protection even if visiting during the early morning or late evening.
  • The park is open from 8:15 a.m. to sunset every day, including holidays. The gates will close 15 minutes after the sun goes down. Hawaii sunset times vary depending on the time of year, though you can always contact the park or call the visitor center for exact closing times.
  • The visitor center is open year round from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with modified hours on holidays.
  • Want to visit the national historical park without booking a flight to Hawai‘i? Opt for a virtual tour of the park provided by the National Parks Service.
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Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park: The Complete Guide